Purity, Penn State, and All of Us

The Freakonomics documentary explores corruption in the world of sumo wrestling. In the book, sumo wrestlers were exposed for fixing matches to benefit one another in rankings and, therefore, social status and salary. The documentary takes this expose a step further, asking questions about how the cultural perception of purity that sumo wrestling has in Japan actually enables the cheating to take place.

Two Japanese words tell the story. The tatamea, the facade of propriety, that sumo wrestling has through its use of Shinto purification rituals hides the home, the real truth, that sumo wrestling is rampant with corruption and cheating. Here is how the authors of Freakonomics describe it:

“Purity is a good mask for corruption because it discourages inquiry.”

“The illusion of purity can not only hide corruption; it can help to make it possible.”

Within the last week, the mask has been pulled off of the Penn State University football program. For years, Joe Paterno has been held up as the paragon of what is good in college sports. He was the successful coach who did it the right way. He ran a model program. He was the living legend. The college football coach of the year award is named after him. He was the moral compass of collegiate sports.

The tatamea is the aptly named Happy Valley, where there was no need to suspect any kind of corruption because the pure Paterno reigned. The home, the real truth, was that the program with the reputation of purity actually employed, protected, and gave access to a brutal pedophile.

Certainly, Jerry Sandusky, the pedophile, is responsible for his actions. But he is not alone in culpability. Penn State, Joe Paterno, the college sports media, and all of us, share the culpability for perpetrating the myth that the Penn State program under Joe Paterno was legendary for doing things the right way. The illusion of purity that we all participated in made the corruption possible.

Penn State is not alone. Churches and Christian organizations have suffered through this same kind of humiliation as the reality of their corruption has been made public. Certainly, the easy example is the priest pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church. But much closer to home for me is the ongoing investigation into the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism and its protection of a pedophile doctor in Bangladesh.

ABWE projected an image as a professional and pure proponent of the gospel, as the best mission agency with the best missionaries. Accusations of abuse were covered up because they threatened to tarnish that image. The home of pedophilia might compromise ABWE’s ability to continue its tatamea of spreading the gospel. Even now, sadly, it seems like ABWE is still trying to sugarcoat the story to protect its image.

Certainly, Donn Ketcham, the missionary doctor in Bangladesh who perpetrated the pedophilia, is responsible for his actions. But he is not alone in his culpability. ABWE, its administrators, missionaries and supporting churches are all responsible too because they perpetrated the myth, not the reality, of ABWE. There was no need for anyone to make an inquiry because the mask of purity was hiding the corruption.

Individuals do this too. If we act better than we are, people won’t ask us hard questions. If we project an image of having it all together, people will just assume that we do. If we wear the mask of purity, we can continue to be corrupt without suspicion.

Here is what I propose:

How about we all just stop pretending?

How about we stop putting ourselves or each other up on pedestals?

How about we stop thinking that some politician, some football coach, some preacher is a moral compass for us all?

How about we stop trusting that governments and movements and corporations and charities and churches are pure or benevolent?

How about we all give up our bias of purity and employ a healthy dose of cynicism in regard to just about everything?

How about we all get real?

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” – Louis Brandeis


My Triumphal Return to Fantasy Football

When we moved to Arkansas, I was busy. Working two jobs, trying to launch a church, trying to be decent dad and an adequate husband. I knew something had to give. I couldn’t do it all. So I gave up fantasy football. Leagues that I had been in for years died. And my Sunday afternoons were profoundly changed.

In a return to normalcy, this year, I decided to make my triumphal return to fantasy football. We set up a league with friends from church and work. Calvin and I managed a team together so he could learn the ropes and be ready to have his own team next season.

We rode the Peytons, Manning and Hillis, all the way to the Championship Game. Where they let us down. Last night, we lost the championship by 8 points.

So much for my triumphal return to fantasy football.


Ridicule Me 2009

Here is my annual Ridicule Robb post – my picks for the upcoming NFL season.

AFC East: New England Patriots
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
AFC Wild Cards: Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
NFC Wild Card: Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants

The Wild Card races really intrigue me this year. I think there are going to be a lot of teams in both conferences in the Wild Card hunt in December. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore, Houston, Dallas, Minnesota, Chicago, Seattle, Arizona, and even Cleveland fight for those four final spots down the stretch.

Super Bowl –
Green Bay Packers 24
San Diego Super Chargers 20

The Brett Favre demons are finally exorcised … and he retires … for good … maybe.


Bracket Fun

I love March Madness. I was telling Vanessa this morning that there is a big reason why the NFL and the NCAA Tournament are so much more popular than every other sporting event of the year – fan investment. For most sports, fans are invested in their favorite teams. But once you get beyond their favorites, the passion a fan feels for a sport drops dramatically. Both football and college basketball have figured out ways to keep their fans invested in the sport irrespective of how their own favorite team is doing. For the NFL, it’s fantasy football. For college basketball, it’s brackets, baby.

Here’s my Final Four:


I’ve got Duke beating Memphis in the championship game. (I wanted to pick either Louisville or Memphis, but so many others had them in the bracket pool at work that I didn’t think it would be a good strategery.

For fun, I also filled out a bracket based purely on team mascots. It’s Final Four:

Demon Deacons
Golden Eagles
Blue Devils
Sun Devils

I had the Demon Deacons beating the Sun Devils in the end. Oops.


4 Things That Could Make a Bad Sunday Worse

Sunday is a Cleveland Browns’ fan hell. The Browns’ two most hated rivals square off with the winner heading to the Super Bowl. There is no way around it, no one else to root for. Either the Steelers or the Ravens are going to be AFC Champions again. And not only do Browns fans have to contend with another “rebuilding” year, they have to do so with one of their biggest rivals as the reigning Conference (and possibly League) champion. Ugh.

But it could be worse.

Here are four things that would make it even worse for Browns fans on Sunday.

– It would be worse if John Elway were the one handing the Lamar Hunt Trophy to either Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh.

– It would be worse if partway through the game it was announced that former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell had been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

– It would be worse if Matt Stover, the only remaining Ravens player who had played for the Browns at the time of the move, hit the game-winning field goal.

– It would be worse if it turned out to be an epic game, remembered as one of the greatest ever, replayed for decades to come on ESPN Classic and NFLN. It would be worse if it simply became known as “The Game.”

I don’t think I’m going to watch.


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