Diogenes would have an easier time finding an honest man than one who honestly presumes that Jerry Sandusky is innocent. In part, after his shockingly incriminating interview with NBC, Sandusky has himself and his lawyer to blame for widespread presumptions of his guilt. But before he ever sat for the interview, the former assistant football coach had been convicted in the press.
With the end of the semester approaching, I haven’t had enough time to blog lately. If I had, this is largely what I would have written. Wendy Kaminer’s piece on The Atlantic today highlights what happens when the world of sports journalism collides with a story far beyond the scope of sport.
I’m not one to demean sports journalists. After all, my out-of-class alter ego is a sports broadcaster. They are great at what they do, and what they do is far more than telling stories about brawny guys smashing into each other or trying to hit a ball with a stick.
But the Jerry Sandusky story is not what sports journalists do. When the narrative moves off the football field and into the courtroom; when people charged with, but not convicted of, crimes await their fair trial… sports journalists aren’t the best to preserve due process.
Bob Costas would be the exception. His phone interview with Sandusky – a remarkably ill-advised move by the former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – was as uncomfortable as it gets. And, let’s face it, Sandusky did not portray himself in a good light at all. Still, Costas never broke. He never made it sound as if Sandusky was already guilty; his facial expressions didn’t even hint at condemnation or disbelief.
His colleagues have not performed as admirably, which Kaminer highlights in the article. I listen to the Dan Patrick radio show most days at work. Patrick, an Emmy-award-winning sports journalist who is as careful and slow to judgment as they come, has called Sandusky every name in the book, and suggests his guilt almost every hour. Patrick had Costas on his show the day after the phone interview, desiring to know how Costas really felt about Sandusky. Costas responded that he “Probably shouldn’t say. It’s a story I, and perhaps you, will be covering in an ongoing way.”
Patrick, like so many other people – never mind journalists – are emotionally impacted by this story. The accusations are graphic and sickening. The kinds of things that cause otherwise mild-mannered men to respond viscerally. We want Sandusky to pay. Except he hasn’t gone to trial. For all we know, he could be exonerated. Not that anyone would notice…
We have a special hate toward those who sexually abuse children, as we should. But we cannot go all Nancy Grace Mode and convict them in the press. What newspaper columns and talk radio shows and television programs around the country have done in the past week violate journalistic integrity and responsibility. Sandusky might turn out to be as guilty as the world thinks he is. But in our democracy, judge and jury convict, not some yahoo with a hot microphone and a hot temper.