A THEORY THAT'S SIMPLE, ELEGANT, AND WRONG
I see what Daniel Mendelsohn is getting at here in a New York Times op-ed, but I don't buy his argument:
WHAT if it had been a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?
... Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl? But the victim in this case was a boy, and so Mr. McQueary left and called his dad (who didn't seem to think that it was a matter for the police either).
Mr. McQueary's reluctance to treat what he allegedly saw as a flagrant crime, his peculiar unwillingness to intervene "physically," the narrative emphasis on his own trauma ("distraught") rather than the boy's, the impulse to keep matters secret rather than provide rescue, all suggest the presence of a particularly intense shame, one occasioned less by pedophilia than by something everyone involved apparently considered worse: homosexuality.
If there really would have been a difference in reaction based on gender, why would it have been this way rather than the other way around? If those who knew about Jerry Sandusky's acts, or observed them, were looking at where it seemed to fall on the gay/straight axis (rather than at whether it was child rape), wouldn't they have wanted to lash out more rather than less at a male who was having sex with another male?
...Penn State's athletic director subsequently characterized Mr. Sandusky's alleged act as "horsing around," a term you suspect he would not have used to describe the rape of a 10-year-old girl.
No, probably you wouldn't -- but what would have been said would been an equally reprehensible attempt at a cover-up. In the case of a girl, if she were beyond a certain age (and I hate to say it, but that age is quite young, though probably not ten), I suspect what would have been said, or at least implied, was that she was the aggressor. Perhaps it would have been couched in reference to the girl being "troubled," and therefore unable to control her tragically precocious sexuality -- plus, you know how kids are these days, with their sick popular culture and the general decline in morality, right? In the case of ten-year-old, some sort of cockamamie story would have been cooked up -- Sandusky heard her cry out and thought she'd slipped in the shower and injured herself, and, well, you know -- he's such a good man, he acted without thinking about appearances.
The fact of the matter is that there would inevitably have been a cover-up on Sandusky's behalf because he was seen as one of the good people, an earthly surrogate for a Christian God who's kind of like an American Dad who loves football, and both Sandusky's charity and the Penn State football program were seen as doing the Lord's work on earth.
And Charlie Pierce is right about this:
It happens because institutions lie. And today, our major institutions lie because of a culture in which loyalty to "the company," and protection of "the brand" -- that noxious business-school shibboleth that turns employees into brainlocked elements of sales and marketing campaigns -- trumps conventional morality, traditional ethics, civil liberties, and even adherence to the rule of law. It is better to protect "the brand" than it is to protect free speech, the right to privacy, or even to protect children.
In a culture that increasingly accepts gay life, organized athletics, from middle school to the professional leagues, is the last redoubt of unapologetic anti-gay sentiment.
The last redoubt? I'd add police forces, fire companies, hip-hop, reggae, and white evangelism, and that's just five off the top of my head. But homophobia doesn't explain covering up male-on-male child rape -- dance-pop music isn't homophobic, yet Michael Jackson's fans want to cover up for him on similar charges. The brand loyalty Pierce talks about extends to people who have vicarious ties to the Michael Jackson brand. That's how invested we are in group identities of this kind.