We expect every crime to have a narrative, and great crimes should have large narratives. Malcolm Gladwell, master of the simple answer to complicated questions, takes to the New Yorker to explain “Jerry Sandusky and the mind of a pedophile“:
… To recap: A man uses his new girlfriend to befriend the family of the ten-year-old boy he is molesting. He orchestrates a threesome in a bed in his parents’ house. He asks the girl to have sex with him with the ten-year-old lying beside them. She says no. She leaves him alone with his victim—and then he persuades her to marry him.
The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.
Did anyone at Penn State understand what they were dealing with, either? Here was a man who built a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar, fully integrated grooming operation, outsourcing to child-care professionals the task of locating vulnerable children—all the while playing the role of lovable goofball. “If Sandusky did not have such a human side,” Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum wrote, in 1999, “there would be a temptation around Happy Valley to canonize him.” A week later, Bill Lyon, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, paid tribute to Sandusky’s selflessness. “In more than one motel hallway, whenever you encountered him and offered what sounded like even the vaguest sort of compliment, he would blush and an engaging, lopsided grin of modesty would wrap its way around his face,” Lyon wrote. “He isn’t in this business for recognition. His defense plays out in front of millions. But when he opens the door and invites in another stray, there is no audience. The ennobling measure of the man is that he has chosen the work that is done without public notice.”…
And then agaim:
… Paterno did not like Sandusky. They argued openly. Paterno found Sandusky’s goofiness exasperating, and the trail of kids following him around irritated Paterno no end. He considered firing Sandusky many times. But, according to Posnanski, he realized that he needed Sandusky—that the emotional, bear-hugging, impulsive knucklehead was a necessary counterpart to his own discipline and austerity. Sandusky never accepted any of the job offers that would have taken him away from Penn State, because he could not leave the Second Mile. But he also stayed because of Paterno. What could be better, for his purposes, than a boss with eyes only for the football field, who dismissed him as an exasperating, impulsive knucklehead? Pedophiles cluster in professions that give them access to vulnerable children—teaching, the clergy, medicine. But Sandusky’s insight, if you want to call it that, was that the culture of football could be the greatest hiding place of all, a place where excessive physicality is the norm, where horseplay is what often passes for wit, where young men shower together after every game and practice, and where those in charge spend their days and nights dreaming only of new defensive schemes…
As a narrative, it is unimpeachable. Some men are monsters, and those men have every impetus to disguise themselves among us ordinary folk if they are to satisfy their depravities. There was a monster named Sandusky, but he’s been defanged now, safely locked away. There was an old man with an obsession, and perhaps he should have been more attentive to the people under his direction, but that was in a different mindspace, and besides the man is dead. And everyone else in the narrative is a victim — both the long string of preadolescent victims, and all those many clueless, well-meaning adults (parents, university authorities, social workers and law enforcement personnel) who were too innocent or too legally restricted to grasp the extent of Sandusky’s depravity.
After all, perhaps this is not the best of all possible worlds, but there will always be a market for credentialled pundits to explain for us how everything has worked out for the best!