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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. jfk69 - Jul 16, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    This is for you James.
    The media is at
    Don’t confuse a service that reports a story as presented to them by the so called fact gatherers involved in the piece. You must be referring to an investigative journalist or a sixty minute type program. Which by the way would never hire you. Inquiring minds want to know where were you as this unfolded? You strike me as the media type. Up on the old soapbox while peddling free lance pieces to whatever rag needs a filler. This all after the facts are in.

  2. gmsingh - Jul 16, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    Why not just go whole hog and say the Freeh report was a fake? It’s not like he could sound any stupider.

  3. ck101 - Jul 16, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    The plot thickens: Rob Neyer, who got his start with Bill James, points out that James and Posnanski are friendly, and that James has read an advance copy. And says that James may have gotten from Posnanski the theory that Paterno “had very few allies. He was isolated, and he was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been.” (

    He may be right, you know. After all, being able to tell your boss to get loss when he tries to fire you, and getting away with it, as Paterno pulled off, is the sure sign that you really don’t have much power.

  4. thinkfirstthentalk - Jul 16, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    To powercorrupts2: i agree with you 100%. I have been so ticked off reading comments from people that confuse the facts and simply regurgitate what all of the uneducated talking heads in the media are stating, or repeating Freehs summary, which i dont think correlates with the facts in the report. We will never be able to hear Joe Paterno defend himself and his actions, but until some can PROVE to me that he told Curry, Schultz, and Spanier to do nothing, to not do their jobs, i will give the man the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is latching onto Curry’s email of changing his mind after talking to Paterno, but no one knows what was said. Paterno had no great love for Sandusky, and he was a smart man. If you accuse him of being selfish about defending his kingdom, then it follows that he would be the first to out Sandusky and get him distanced from Penn States image, not bury it. And finally, only ONE person knows what he saw in the shower room in 2001, and that is McQueary. If what he saw was truly so heinous, he should have followed up. He was an adult at the time and i believe he is probably a decent person until someone can show me otherwise. I cant believe he would simply get their attention to make “it” stop and then leave the young boy if he thought the boy was in danger. If he did not feel the actions taken by upper management were sufficient he could have gone straight to the police, or the FBI if he doubted anyones ability to act independently. But he didnt.

  5. stercuilus65 - Jul 16, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    ck101- so Neyer comes out defending James, what a surprise! I’m shocked!

    thinkfirstthentalk – do you really believe that garbage? Your defense is laughable.

    • ck101 - Jul 17, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      What strikes me most is Neyer’s tone – thank heavens Bill is out there bravely asking these tough questions that no one else will, and we’re all just fortunate to be walking the earth at the same time as this intellectual colossus who shows us the truth. In the comments he even says he thinks the Red Sox should have praised his willingness to speak his mind, rather than silencing him.

      I get the longstanding professional and personal relationship between the two, and that you can’t really expect him to be entirely unbiased on the subject, but I don’t think Neyer really helped himself or James much here.

  6. thinkfirstthentalk - Jul 17, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    Stercuilus65: tell me where i go wrong. I am open to changing my mind, but simply calling my defense laughable wont do it.

  7. grandpasmind - Jul 17, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Bill James may be right that it was routine for men to shower w/ boys 40 years ago. I wouldn’t say that it was routine for men to shower one-on-one with boys. In any event, 1998 was not 40 years ago. The complaint at that time was for Sandusky showering alone with a teenage boy, and it was part of a pattern of sexual conduct. What if it was Bill James’ son in that situation? Would he think the fact that no criminal charges were filed meant it was nothing to worry about? In my view, JoePa cannot be credibly defended from the charge of turning a blind eye to Sandusky’s crimes. He didn’t know exactly what was going on, because he didn’t want to know. He handled it like someone more concerned w/ avoiding bad publicity than w/ doing the right thing.

  8. sparky1002 - Jul 19, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Seems to me many of the people wondering how something like this can happen for so long are the very people who contribute to such things when they laud sports figures as “flawless heroes” to the point sports figures take on a premadonna attitude that allows them to commit the rape of young men while their influence does the silencing. Wasn`t there something about removing a halo from a mans painting somewhere, also something about tearing down a mans statue? Statues and halos…obviously a man with no real influence as regards Paterno`s ability to stop the Sandusky rapes, or is it more likely Paterno instigated a coverup with the intent to protect his own heritage and as a consequence involved those he answered to, a kind of mutual protection service open only to those involved. What kind of conscience exists within the minds of such people that they can go for many years concealing such actions? I am not speaking of perfection in anyone, we all have shortcomings of some sort, but the coverup of repeated rapes at the hands of those any student should be able to trust, is an out and out crime, and those who were active in the coverup have made themselves co-defendants by virtue of doing nothing to stop it after having knowledge of it for years.

  9. herbie5x - Jul 19, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    If Bill James is actually a Red Sox employee, he will soon be fired for his stupidity!!

    Sandusky was the coach of “linebacker u” under joeheaduphisolda##! To all who say they weren’t close have theirheaduptheira##!! joeheaduphisolda## didn’t even kick him out of his office let alone the building!! The FACTS are joeheaduphisold## wanted to maintain his FAMILY empire!! Jay was in line to be the next head coach
    in joeheaduphisolda## perfect world!! Use of a suite free for 25 years watching the
    s##tin mouth continue the wonderful family legacy. THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERED
    to them!!! Protect at all cost!! Well that cost will be astronomical $$$$$$$!!!!!

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