Our American Curse: Outrage Before Truth

“Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forwards.” --Soren Kierkegaard

In the past few days an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of student-athletes by a former (deceased in 2005) Doctor at Ohio State has taken a new turn. Some are now claiming that prominent Republican Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan knew about and ignored the alleged abuse.

Congressman Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1986-94. During that time the team doctor is alleged to have abused members of the wrestling team. According to news reports at least one wrestler alleges that he told Jordan about this doctor’s behavior.

Given the derision that Penn Staters have been subjected to after the Sandusky case, you might expect that I would gloat in the sexual abuse scandals at schools like Michigan State, USC and Ohio State. But hopefully we’ve learned the lessons that come from being in the sights of those who trained the guns of false claims of complicity at us.

I’m neither writing to condemn nor defend Congressman Jordan. For the moment let’s divorce this from his political views. The allegations against Jordan have stirred an impatient virtual mob of members looking to one-up each other in expressions of outrage before the facts have been established.

For his part Jordan denied the allegations. But counter to the standards of our legal system, in public opinion the accuser’s claims are instantly given the aura of truth, while the accused are left to prove their innocence. Once again we’re hearing words that surface with these stories; “He had to know”, “it would have been impossible for him to be unaware”, “enabler.”

This is where Kierkegaard’s quote should be instructive. It’s unfair to second-guess someone’s actions twenty-five years ago using the knowledge and standards we have now. They probably did not know then what we know now.

Furthermore offenders go to great lengths to conceal their behavior from everyone. Failing to identify an offender does not make one an “enabler”, a term that implies active help or concealment. Keep in mind that trained experts in this field miss the signs of predators every day in America.

But the problem is that we gladly believe with absolute certainty every negative allegation about someone we dislike or resent. And we demand absolute proof that someone we dislike may be innocent of any allegation, no matter how ridiculous. We also seek to hurl our bolts at the highest targets. Because the Ohio State doctor is dead, we turn our attention to the Congressman.

I, like most people, don’t know all the facts that surround Jim Jordan in these claims. But I do know that claims about knowledge, enabling and cover-ups about Penn State’s football coaches were completely false. I was one of those coaches, so I come at this from the perspective of knowing that much of the initial reporting about us was wrong.

At Ohio State, uncovering facts and the truth from events over two decades ago will take time. If Jordan did something wrong then the justice system will take its course. But we demand vigilante justice delivered in a few tweets, with keyboards and smartphones as the torches, pitchforks and rope of the virtual lynch mob.

Stephen Colbert said it best about another story: "We'll have more on this story as information becomes available...which is hopefully never because right now I'm in the sweet spot between complete ignorance & righteous indignation." That statement was a joke, but one based in a hard truth about where we are as a society. We relish the sweet spot where our biases create a self-imposed ignorance that leads us to righteous indignation.

Earlier I stated I’m neither here to condemn or defend Jim Jordan, but I will defend the right to due process and condemn the mob mentality and the rush to judgment. We must stop automatically conferring credibility only on those who share our agenda, while denying it to people on the other side.

No party is immune to the virus of self-serving hypocrisy. Some of the same Democrats who talked up sexual assault allegations against Trump were the same ones who ignored those leveled at Bill Clinton. Conversely Trump trumpeted the women who accused Clinton while calling the ones that accused him liars.

So where does all this leave us? It leaves us needing to find a moral compass where the only “True North” is the truth discovered after a careful review of facts. Anything less is dangerous.

Today political opportunists wielding unproven claims against opponents to advance their agenda are soulless leaders of a virtual mob hell bent on destruction at whatever cost. If we remain fools separated into camps refusing to accept truth that doesn’t confirm our biased expectations, then we have set our nation’s future on a perilous course towards darker days.

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© 2014 Jay Paterno