Penn State and the Nationalist Impulse

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Yesterday, one of Jerry Sandusky's staunchest defenders, accused him of being a long-time tormentor:

Matt Sandusky is one of six children Jerry Sandusky and his wife adopted. He had been one of his father's staunchest supporters despite his birth mother Debra Long's testimony before a grand jury that her son was upset about staying with Sandusky. 

Matt Sandusky attempted suicide several months after moving in with Sandusky in 1995. In addition, Matt Sandusky's wife got an order of protection on behalf of their children against the elder Sandusky. Sources close to the case said that Matt Sandusky contacted prosecutors late last week to say that he was willing to testify. 

Prosecutors couldn't call him to the stand for direct questioning because he was not included in the charges against his father. But they could have called Matt Sandusky to the stand as a rebuttal witness if Jerry Sandusky took the stand, sources said. 
Throughout Sandusky's trial, I've thought back to the crowds of students angrily defending Joe Paterno. It's not that those students were particularly monstrous -- on the contrary, it is the normalcy of their behavior, the humanity of it, that amazes. As others have said there's line between Penn State, the Catholic Church's scandals, and the scandals among the ultra-orthodox Jews out in Brooklyn. (I hope I phrased all of that right.)

What you see is the human impulse to squelch the rights of individuals for the greater glory of a nation. We can see that even here in America, looking at civil liberties in the post-9/11 era. But in the Sandusky trial it's boiled down in the worst possible way. The impulse is to be horrified by people defending Penn State's handling of this, because, at the end of the day, it's only football. But when football becomes your identity, when football raises buildings on your campus, when you so much relate to the players on the field that their affairs absorb your weekends, then it's no longer "just football." You take on aspects of the religious and the national.

Someone smarter than me can sort this out. But what I see are fundamental conflicts in human organization -- that and a guy who adopted six kids. Matt Sandusky once tried to kill himself, I really wonder how Sandusky's other kids are doing.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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