Penn State’s shame — and America’s too

November 15, 2011


“Success with Honor” is the motto of Penn State’s athletic program. They got it half right.

The alleged sexual abuse of young boys by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is disgusting, outrageous and immoral. That so many at the school’s highest level allegedly engaged either in covering up serial abuses, or turned a blind eye to them in order to maintain the “integrity” of the football program and its legendary coach, Joe Paterno, adds insult to unfathomable injury.

Baseball may still be called the national pastime, but football has become the national religion. College football is played on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, while professional football is mostly played on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. Fans of both often express themselves in ways that are more vocal than the wildest Pentecostal preacher.

While denouncing what is alleged to have happened at Penn State as repugnant, we would do well to examine the reasons behind such things. Yes, it begins with human nature, but society — buttressed by religion — once did a better job of keeping human nature in check.

Since the free-loving ’60s, we seem to have taken a wrecking ball to social mores. Today, anyone appealing to such a standard is denounced and stamped with the label of the day, usually ending in the suffix, “-phobe.”

The medical and psychological professions have aided and abetted the cultural rot. Doctors once took an oath to “never do harm,” accompanied by a pledge never to assist in an abortion. Now the official position of the American Medical Association’s “code of ethics” is this: “The principles of medical ethics of the AMA do not prohibit a physician from performing an abortion in accordance with good medical practice and under circumstances that do not violate law.”

Doctors once led; now they follow cultural trends.

On its website, the American Psychological Association brags, “Since 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations.” It once considered such behavior otherwise and while even most conservatives no longer regard homosexuality as a mental illness, many still regard it as sinful. That theological diagnosis, too, has been discarded in our increasingly secular and anomalous society where everything is to be tolerated except those people who assert that, according to a standard higher than opinion polls, some things remain intolerable.

What changed? Pressure groups aided by secular education and the entertainment industry.

Last week, an episode of “Glee” featured two couples — one straight, one gay — “losing their virginity.” The show’s co-creator, Ryan Murphy, told Bravo’s “Sex in the Box”: “Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that will be my legacy.” Some legacy.

What we tolerate and promote we get more of and what we discourage and reject we get less of. C.S. Lewis said it best in “The Abolition of Man”: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

The message at Penn State was that we live in a culture that forbids almost nothing. Jerry Sandusky apparently believed that and crossed one of the few remaining lines of morality left in our culture. But even that line might soon be erased if the pressure groups and their campaign contributions grow large enough.

In the last verse of the Old Testament’s book of Judges, there is this: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That could have been the motto at Penn State. Increasingly, it appears to describe contemporary America as well.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is


tange 2 years, 5 months ago

My early development was mired in organized religion. In retrospect, I cannot see any relationship between it and morality.

Meaning, ultimately, is the basis of morality. Not the personal meanings so often invoked to rationalize what amounts to self-indulgence; meaning born of and accounting for but transcendent of 'selves'.


Katara 2 years, 5 months ago

For Gandalf... since he asked.

Tanner (1981) has summarized the available data for average age at menarche in 19th century Europe for several groupings of countries. Average ages at menarche in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Germany and Russia were between 15.0 and 16.8 years in working women and between 14.3 and 15.0 years in middle class women. For France, Spain and Italy, corresponding ranges were 14.5 to 15.4 years for working class samples and 13.5 to 14.3 years for middle class samples. The most complete overview of age at menarche for modern populations is given in Eveleth and Tanner (1990). The range given for European samples (all social classes) collected since 1970 is 12.1 to 13.5 years, indicating a decline of several years with respect to 19th century data. In Oslo, where serial data are most complete, the mean menarchal age declined from 15.6 years in 1860 to 13.2 in 1960. Recent values for the US are 12.8 years for whites and 12.5 for Blacks.

"Foraging women are 16 years old at menarche, 19.5 year old at first birth, nurse for three to four years, have a completed family size of 5.9 live births, and an average age at menopause of 47 years. They experience a total of 160 ovulations in their lifetime. Contemporary American women are 12.5 years old at menarche, 24 years old at age of first birth, nurse for 3 months (if at all), have a completed family size of 1.8, and are 50.5 years old at menopause. American women experience approximately 450 ovulations within their lifetime (Eaton et al 1994)."


Agnostick 2 years, 5 months ago

beatrice nails it: For Cal Thomas, "personal responsibility" and "societal ill" are interchangeable, depending on what best suits his political agenda.

I kind of doubt that James Porter, Paul Shanley, or Bernard Law had much to do with "free love," except maybe at the seminaries they attended. Porter was molesting children long before the first "hippie" put on love beads and sandals.


ENGWOOD 2 years, 5 months ago

All about the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


beatrice 2 years, 5 months ago

If Sandusky were running for president rather than being a former assistant football coach, there would be people on here making the case of his innocence and blaming the accusers for being little himbos. Sandusky says he is innocent and besides, why didn't people make a bigger deal of it back when it actually happened? Why is it coming out now? He wasn't convicted in a court of law, after all. I'll bet the accusers are just trying to make money ... we should investigate their financial background.

Cal: Accept personal responsibility, except when you can blame society. Brilliant.


deathpenaltyliberal 2 years, 5 months ago

Since all Cal Thomas can do is blame it on the '60's, and all my conservative friends can do is blame it on "secular progressives", I'll interrupt with some facts.

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno are registered Republicans. Paterno is also a former Bush donor.

As much as I would like to attribute this shameful episode to Republican elitism and hypocrisy, maybe this is just a case of individuals behaving badly.


Richard Payton 2 years, 5 months ago

Wonder if Cal is going to write about the Citadel civil lawsuit that settled for $3.8 million. US Marine Officer Michael Arpaio was court martialed in that case. Citadel didn't release the information to the police also!


Paul R Getto 2 years, 5 months ago

"The lawyer for the Penn State football coach charged with child sex abuse said in an interview on Monday the boy at the center of a 2002 incident detailed in the grand jury's report had been identified and said it never happened." == Not that's it relevant, but this guy knocked up a teen-bopper and married her a while back. This whole thing is gonna be messy for all concerned.


Gandalf 2 years, 5 months ago

"Since the free-loving ’60s, we seem to have taken a wrecking ball to social mores. "

Was Paterno a 30 something hippie? He knew and did nothing. He is a Roman catholic. Is he an opus dei like guv brownie?


Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 5 months ago

People are getting awfully quick to judge. I already posted this on another thread on LJWorld:

Here's the news from Reuters.

Clipped from:

"Boy in 2002 incident denies abuse: Sandusky lawyer"

"The lawyer for the Penn State football coach charged with child sex abuse said in an interview on Monday the boy at the center of a 2002 incident detailed in the grand jury's report had been identified and said it never happened."

"Speaking to sportscaster Bob Costas, Joe Amendola, who represents Sandusky, said "we anticipate we're going to have at least several of those kids come forward and say, 'This never happened.'""

I wonder if this might end up like the Duke lacrosse case at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina did.

"The fallout from the case's resolution led to, among other things, the disbarment of lead prosecutor Mike Nifong."


Richard Payton 2 years, 5 months ago

The grand jury report listed 8 victims. How many more will come forward. Did Sandusky's six adopted kids or wife suspect anything? Why did the Judge reduce Sandusky's bail and not require him to wear an ankle device? Heard she was a volunteer for Second Mile.


tomatogrower 2 years, 5 months ago

So Cal, guns don't kill people, people kill people. But Sandusky doesn't molest children, the homosexual lifestyle molests children? It never fails to amaze me the strange logic that the pious religious right uses to not make excuses for someone who was probably a "pillar" in society, belonged to all the right clubs, went to all the right parties. The gays made him do it. The devil made him do it. Yet, if someone is poor, it's all their own fault.


jayhawklawrence 2 years, 5 months ago

Today's younger generation is better educated and they have a better understanding of environmental and human rights issues. They are not as narrow minded and they are the first "internet generation" as my generation was the first "television generation" although we only had 3 channels and no such thing as cable.

Cal is struggling with the fact that the right wing positions he cherishes are obsolete. Like the steam engine, they are dying along the road and need to be replaced with something better to deal with a changing world.

Christian churches that have become politically active and promoted right wing positions have started to turn off a young generation. This is unfortunate because religious faith transcends politics.

The simple fact that 50 million Americans have no health insurance and a significant number of the population believes that is not their problem indicates that our priorities are skewed.


jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

The obvious flaws in these arguments are striking.

Equating adult consensual behavior with child abuse is absurd.


FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 5 months ago

?BAA said: "our traditional values which has led to moral decline."?

Our!?! I beg to differ.

This is liberal behavior. They play with Moral Hazard. They are the ones hiding behind titles like Democrat, Republican, Government employee, Social Worker, geeks in topeka and my favorite, the all encompassing "American".

Liberals are the emotional misfits that desire Moral Hazard.(imbued with immoral character)

(from a source)


Paul R Getto 2 years, 5 months ago

"Secular Progressives are "compromising" away our traditional values" ==== Huh? What is a secular progressive? Someone who believes in overtime pay and a 40-hour work week? BTW: All values, including 'traditional' values are human inventions. We need them, but to view them as something other than human edifices is naive and magical thinking. The tragedy in "Happy Valley" is one to which we should attend, but as usual, Mr. Thomas has a separate agenda to pursue which has little to do with protecting children.


geekin_topekan 2 years, 5 months ago

BAA said: "our traditional values which has led to moral decline." ++++ WHich traditional values are those? Human trafficking? Genocide? Segregation? Whites only and preferences? Darn that civil rights movement and the upholding of the founder's documents that state that all men are created equal.


its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

The problem with the looney left is that giving the outlets they watch, most of facts are never presented to them. Maddow, Maher, Olbermann, Williams, moveon, dailykos, mediamatters etc tend to leave alot out in a typical broadcast.


jonas_opines 2 years, 5 months ago

"Yes, it begins with human nature, but society — buttressed by religion — once did a better job of keeping human nature in check."

Nope. Even a casual glance at history shows that to be totally and unutterably false. Only difference now is that we Hear about everything, every day, because of the advances in media and information processing.

Stick to the politicians as topics for pumping your agenda, Cal. When you try to tie anything else in to the only topic that you know how to write about, you just sound silly.


appleaday 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm not hateful and I'm a Catholic, not a "secular-progressive." Which box do you put Sandusky in? Is he a "secular-progressive?' It's amazing to me, Tom, how you can generalize the actions of this man and the hierarchy in the Penn State football organization into whatever group you disagree with. How about taking the facts on their own merit?


its_just_math 2 years, 5 months ago

Whenever something like this happens, all the hateful secular-progressives can do is again restate their feelings that conservative Christians are all hypocrites and have no credibility in denouncing these despicable acts; and could possibly be the reason for them. Typical "Rules for Radicals" play-by-play behavior.


BornAgainAmerican 2 years, 5 months ago

No doubt that Cal will be a target for all of the local Larryville extremists, but he is correct that Secular Progressives are "compromising" away our traditional values which has led to moral decline. Witness the Anarchy of the Fleabaggers. Their violence and squallor has led to their ouster in New York and Oakland as well as several other cities. Like the T-Party? Absolutely not. The OWS mob practices the "anything goes" mantra of the far left, radical extremists. The fact that Obama embraces this movement leads one to believe that this is the future that the Secular Progressives envision for this once great nation...morally bankrupt anarchy. Call me whatever you wish, I will not lower myself to the bad behavior and seemingly lack of any moral compass exhibited by teh far left Secular Progressives who are the real crivers of Fleabagger mob.


cato_the_elder 2 years, 5 months ago

Looks like some of the previous commenters have never heard of NAMBLA.


jaywalker 2 years, 5 months ago

"The message at Penn State was that we live in a culture that forbids almost nothing. Jerry Sandusky apparently believed that and crossed one of the few remaining lines of morality left in our culture. But even that line might soon be erased if the pressure groups and their campaign contributions grow large enough"

Even a curmudgeon like Cal has to realize that implying child molestation "might soon be erased" as a line that can't be crossed is nothing more than wanton hubris for the sake of this column. Jumped the shark again, Cal.


grammaddy 2 years, 5 months ago

"..secular education and the entertianment industry." Come on Cal. Quit trying to blame this on anything but greed. It wasn';t the hippies' fault either. This was about one sick somebuck and his cronies who covered for him and the school to avoid a scandal. Such a sad commentary on the system.


appleaday 2 years, 5 months ago

And, Cal, remember that the most blatant and reprehensible system failing to protect children in order to protect their own "integrity" and reputation, was a religious organization -- The Catholic Church.


KEITHMILES05 2 years, 5 months ago

Hey Cal! Please remember and lecture those straight people who are largely responsible for crimes against children. Yes, this coach was straight, ok? Stop belly aching against gays which had not a damn thing to do with this situation.


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