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Bill James doubles down on the Joe Paterno defense

Jul 14, 2012, 6:02 PM EDT

Bill James

Yesterday we looked at Bill James’ initial comments defending Joe Paterno. His take: Paterno did what he was supposed to have done circa 1998 and what more could possibly have been asked of him? You know, apart from doing a single thing to prevent Jerry Sandusky from raping more children in the Penn State football facilities, which James apparently believes would have been some sort of super-human, above-and-beyond kind of thing.

One would figure that James would stop with that, but today on Doug Gottlieb’s ESPN Radio show, James doubled down. Not only does he continue to erroneously assert that Paterno did everything he could have done back in 1998, but he insists that the Sandusky coverup was the media’s fault. And that, sure, grown men showering with boys was something that was totally common 40 years ago.

The audio — about 15 minutes worth — is here.  The Big Lead transcribed the more critical bits, which included the following:

“[Paterno] knew less about [Sandusky] than everyone else there … He had very few allies. He was isolated. He was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been … they kept it quiet because they had no idea what was happening … they just thought they were dealing with a little misunderstanding … people who are responsible for it are the media. The media created this smokescreen behind which Sandusky operated, and then they’re trying to blame Paterno.”

There are no words.

Wait, there are words: stop it, Bill. You’re talking total nonsense. You’re being a contrarian because you like being a contrarain and you hate what you consider to be rushes to judgment, mob mentality and piling on. But this is one case where your instincts are failing you and you’re making yourself look like a fool.

If people don’t think anything particularly bad is happening, they do not commit a coverup of the magnitude and nature of the coverup which was committed at Penn State. And even if one thinks that Joe Paterno’s power within Penn State was somehow less than what is generally assumed — which is silly, as the man was the closest thing to a God at that institution — what difference does it make?  One need not have some exalted status to pick up a phone and call the police. Indeed, the grand jury investigation which eventually uncovered all of this ugliness was launched by a phone call from the parents of one of the victims.

Any number of people could have stopped Sandusky. It has been conclusively proven that Paterno and many other members of the Penn State hierarchy had sufficient information as far back as 1998 and without question as soon as 2002 that could have and should have put Sandusky in prison and which would have spared countless young boys from his evil. Paterno chose not to act. All of them did. And they didn’t do it because they were ignorant and powerless. They did it because they feared bad publicity for their beloved football program, their own reputations and their careers.  They were rank cowards and, it very well appears, criminals in their own right.

How James, a man who can see so much that others cannot see, can fail to see this is beyond me. One need not muster some sort of moral outrage or make the worst assumptions about anyone to see what is plain with respect to Paterno and Sandusky and all that happened and didn’t happen at Penn State. One must merely look at the emails exchanged between the men who committed the coverup. To see what they cared about and what they didn’t care about, what they did and what they didn’t do, and what those acts and omissions allowed to happen.

It was the media’s fault? Please. That’s a pathetic canard when it’s deployed in normal circumstances. To cite that here when there are so many obvious people worthy of blame — real, damnable blame — is perverse in the extreme.

Of course, what James considers acceptable in all of this is eluding me anyway:

At the 14:10 mark Gottlieb asks James, “have you ever showered with a boy? Do you know anybody who has showered with a boy?” James says “Yes, that was actually quite common in the town I grew up in. That was quite common in America 40 years ago.”

Again. No words. This time I mean it.

UPDATE: One clarification here. That last bit comes off slightly cheap on my part. I don’t mean the curt response to be the equivalent of “gosh, look at that weirdo who thinks it’s cool for men to shower with boys.”  And I would prefer that the comments here don’t trend in that direction, because I don’t think it’s what James meant. And I don’t think Bill is saying that as a means of defending Sandusky’s actions or even Paterno’s coverup.  I think, though, that the answer is a tell that Bill doesn’t exactly understand what he’s commenting on, and that it remains significant for that reason.

That comment about men and boys 40 years ago came in response to a direct question. James, as is his wont, answered it directly. He didn’t provide any expanded context — Does he mean causally? Does he mean coaches and players? Fathers and sons? Innocently, as a means of water conservation? — but he answered it.  I think he’s the type who will answer any direct question you put to him directly, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the questioner. Maybe the more uncomfortable it makes him the better.

But again, I think this was a situation in which James is completely missing the forest for the trees and being a bit too cute in his answer. He had to know when he’s being asked that question that the host was referring to showering with boys in a sinister, untoward manner. When we speak of showering with boys and the Penn State scandal, we obviously cannot forget what we know. More to the point, what Paterno clearly knew as of 2002. That’s what James was being asked about and I think he decided to simply answer the question as if he was talking to a historian about the strange folkways of 1950s Kansas rather than a child rape scandal.

That’s really my criticism of James here. I don’t think he supports Sandusky at all or even Paterno to any serious degree as much as he finds it intellectually interesting to defend him. But I think his focusing on a couple of legalistic points misses the entire real point of the story, and the shower question is a microcosm of that.

100 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. paperlions - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    I think Bill James is one of those people that would just keep walking if he heard a woman screaming and saw what looked like a rape in progress. After all, he wouldn’t want to rush to judgement and their interaction was no business of his. There are times when you make decisions because even if you are wrong, it is the better error to make. It is better to intercede and find out a crime was not being committed than to stick your head in the sand and act like it is no business of yours. I’m not sure how such people live with themselves, they must have more powerful denial abilities than I do.

  2. drewsylvania - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    When does he team up with George Lucas?

    • yankeesgameday - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      It’s funny because he’s fat.
      — Mr. Chao

  3. okwhitefalcon - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    Over and under on when the Red Sox cut ties with James Craig?


    • drewsylvania - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      James Craig? (googled the name but nothing damning came up)

      • okwhitefalcon - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:26 PM

        Asking “Craig” Calcaterra about when the Red Sox fire Bill “James”.

      • drewsylvania - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        Gotcha. Well, he’s merely being a moron and not covering up anything, but I gotta think there will be a talking-to.

    • bigleagues - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:44 PM

      48 Hours

    • Ralph - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:35 PM

      Basic punctuation. It’s your friend.

      • okwhitefalcon - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:46 PM

        Comma down.

  4. drewsylvania - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Also makes me wonder if Bill James is related to Graham James.

  5. yankeesgameday - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    No words Craig? Here are some possible choices:

    GRAB. A. GUN.

    oh, wait, he already did that last one.

  6. sabatimus - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:23 PM


  7. keithbangedyermom - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    Bill can head back into his cave whenever he wants.

  8. paperlions - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    The odd thing is that James is doing something he that he despises in other people. He is ignoring the data and choosing the narrative that he preferred a priori.

    • gwjones7 - Jul 14, 2012 at 8:45 PM

      Not to mention defending something just because it used to be commonplace.

  9. stac266 - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    It’s really hard to believe someone could have their head shoved that deep in the sand. Very, very sad.

    • nbjays - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:29 PM

      Seems to me that it is not the sand that he has his head shoved deep inside… just sayin’.

  10. tombando - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    Bill you are batting .000 here stop it. This makes your goofy defense of Rose and libeling Dick Allen even worse in this light. Before you tank your career let it go.

  11. bigleagues - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:42 PM


    July 14th, 2012
    TO: Larry Lucchino
    FR: John Henry
    RE: Bill James

    Is there anyway we can spin James’ comments re: Paterno?

    Because, personally speaking, I’m stumped.

    Please tell me that we can we just fire him. I really don’t want to explain to Felger and Mazz why we didn’t.

  12. lawrencejnc - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Need a copy editor?

    exhaulted? = exalted

  13. raysfan1 - Jul 14, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    I was a big Joe Paterno fan and was adamant about not judging anyone until all the evidence came out.

    Well, Sandusky is officially one of the worst monsters ever. Proven and thus convicted. Good riddance.

    The preponderance of the evidence indicates Paterno did know, and that he actively took part in enabling the monster remain free and hurts other kids. It really saddens me deeply.

    • 18thstreet - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:08 PM

      Thanks, Raysfan1. I’m sure words like yours have been written elsewhere, but I haven’t read them.

  14. joecool16280 - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Now it’s just starting to sound creepy. Creepy as in I wouldn’t wan’t my kids around this guy.

  15. mattjerr - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:09 PM

    What sway does Joepa have over these people? Any good Paterno did is totally erased by the Sandusky incident. It shows Joe’s true character.

    • davidpom50 - Jul 16, 2012 at 12:53 PM

      Maybe this is a minor, quibble, but I was talking about this earlier, and I don’t think “erased” is the right word. The good he did was still good. It’s just far outweighed by the evil he allowed to happen.

  16. phillyphever - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    Never liked James, so for him to say these things makes me laugh. Does he drink the same water the people in Happy Valley do or something? PATERNO DIDN’T DO A GOD DAMN THING TO PUT AN END TO SANDUSKY’S MOLESTING WAYS!!!!! The man is in hell right now, warming up the seats of Sandusky, Spainer, Schultz and Curley when they arrive there. But keep it up James, let this be a shining example of how desolutional someone can be.

  17. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    The media created this smokescreen behind which Sandusky operated

    Reminds me of the Chris Rock skit where people say the media has distorted their image. The media! (quoting Rock) When I go to the money machine tonight, I’m not looking out for the media. I’m looking for #*!^@$. Oh shit, it’s Mike Wallace. Run!”

  18. baseballisboring - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    Wow, this is some shit that Uncle Paul (from the Opie and Anthony show) would say. “It was a misunderstanding! This was quite common 40 years ago. Let rub some earllll on your back…”

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:23 PM

      This was quite common 40 years ago,

      Anyone from the older generation even want to defend this? Because it sounds super creepy now, and I’d assume it was super creepy then too.

  19. ajsjr40 - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:34 PM

    Just another Red Sox employee having a real bad year!

  20. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    “We caught Sandusky raping a boy in the showers.”

    “Well then, we better keep him away from the showers.”

    That any grown man could engage in such a thought process, for whatever reason, is unfathomable. That somebody could defend such a person is mind-boggling.

  21. xpensivewinos - Jul 14, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    The old expression “takes one to know one” comes to mind.

    And that ain’t good for Bill James. Kind of ironic that I always thought he was a creep, but never would have guessed to this magnitude. Yikes.

  22. bauman007 - Jul 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    I heard this interview on ESPN radio. I’ve never heard Doug Gottlieb feel so awkward on the air

  23. 2fleas - Jul 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    To hell with everyone involved and their apologists. How can you look at yourself in the mirror? As adults, our responsibility is to protect those who cannot protect themself.

  24. dannythebisforbeast - Jul 14, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    If he was locked up in 1998 like he should have been. We’re not having this conversation

  25. jayquintana - Jul 14, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    I’m not sure what’s worse, Bill James defending Paterno, or Bill James doing such a horrible job of defending Paterno.

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