December 6, 2011

Political Theory

On November 4, 2011, a grand jury indicted Jerry Sandusky, a former defense coordinator of the Penn State football team, on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. The following day he was arrested and released on $100,000 bail.

Unlike other posts on the Penn State scandal, I will be focusing on Sandusky and the ramifications of his actions through the lens of social identities and social perceptions, instead of discussing Joe Paterno’s dirty hands. In class we labeled social identity as being shaped by one’s actions. Sandusky’s charges are extremely serious; he is accused of sexually assaulting eight boys over the last 15 years. In America, all suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However, does that really matter nowadays? Once news broke out, news stations across the country began spreading the story like rapid fire. His identity in the eyes of the world immediately became tainted, and will forever remain that way even if he is acquitted of all charges. Is that fair? Is that punishment enough? I am by no means implying that I believe he is innocent or that it is in any way unfair to put him to trial; I am simply analyzing the affect the media has on identity and reputation on an innocent man in the eyes of the law (for now, at least). For the purposes of this point, suppose he was found innocent, would any company ever risk the negative publicity that would come with hiring him? Would people on the street stop staring at him in a dirty way? The answer to these questions is a staggering, “no.” From the moment his picture was released with the words “sex crimes” and “young boys” attached, Sandusky’s reputation is ruined forever.

In an effort to salvage his reputation, Sandusky agreed to be interviewed by The New York Times this past week, almost a month after he was arrested. “They’ve taken everything that I ever did for any young person and twisted it to say that my motives were sexual or whatever,” Sandusky said, “I had kid after kid after kid who might say I was a father figure. And they just twisted that all.” In the interview, he insisted repeatedly that he never sexually abused any children. He did, however, confirm some of the events that he was accused of such as regularly giving money, opening bank accounts, and giving gifts to the disadvantaged children at his charity, Second Mile. As his lawyer, Joseph Amnedola said, “All those good things that you were doing have been turned around,” speaking to Sandusky, “and the people who are painting you as a monster are saying, ‘Well, they’re the types of things that people who are pedophiles exhibit.’” By agreeing to the interview, insisting that the accusations are false, and stating his side of the story, did Sandusky end up reviving his reputation at all?

Nowadays with technology and media, one’s social identity can be ruined in a matter of seconds, as we saw in this case. If one’s name is brought up in a bad light and is broadcasted via the Internet or the television, it is essentially irreversible. Even if the evidence brought up is disproved, it is still next to impossible to change the public’s perception once that negative image is established. How do we reconcile this if we live in a country where people are meant to be innocent up until the second they’re proven guilty. For now, Sandusky has not been proven guilty, but he is surely not seen as an innocent man in the eyes of the public; he is seen as a pedophile. Is that fair? Is Sandusky’s name tarnished forever, even if he is found innocent? I personally believe that if he is found innocent that there should be a way to reclaim his identity and reputation. What do others think?



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  1. tyhughes2014 Says:

    Firstly, very well written article. One of more thought-intriguing articles I have read so far on the blog.

    This idea of guilty before being proven innocent vs. innocent before being proven guilty is something I have thought about many times but until now I had not thought about it in the context of the Penn State scandal. I completely agree with you though that social media is a main factor in this idea and that when a majority of individuals have the mindset of people being guilty before proven innocent, it undermines the judicial system of this country. However, if in your post you are implying that the commonality of people to assume guilt before innocence is a new phenomenon, I disagree with you. I strongly believe that this assumption of guilt before innocence is embedded in human nature and only through the recent expansion of technology has it become more realized.

    Information moves more quickly today then it did 10 years ago thanks to advances in technology. Look back 30+ years and you’d say information moved at snail speed. I believe that when information and news moved slower it took longer for news to spread and because of this it took people longer to fall into a sheep mentality. When I say sheep mentality, I’m implying that people just go along with the masses. When pictures and articles are plastered all over the television and internet calling Sandusky a sexual predator, people fall into a sheep mindset because they are merely going along with what others think, rather than thinking for themselves. Technology has sped up the process of people falling into a sheep mindset and in today’s world, people do not have time to reach trial before society has already conformed into a mentality of guilt before innocence.

    I find it unfortunate that society has created this persona of Sandusky before he has had his date in court. Regardless of the actions he may have committed, he is entitled to a free trial and he is entitled to a status of innocence until proven guilty. Our judicial system is in place to protect the citizens and if an individual wishes to be protected themselves, they must share that right will all, regardless of who gruesome the conviction is.

  2. jacobdockser Says:

    I have to say that I try my best to give every person the benefit of the doubt, and consider them innocent until proven guilty BUT Jerry Sandusky himself, in my eyes has taken away that doubt. In both of his interviews he, whether out of ignorance or just sheer creepiness, he allows doubt to be raised when asked of his attraction to young boys.
    So to answer the questions posed above, he is seen as a pedophile, is that fair? Yes. He allowed that to be cemented into reputation by not clearly stating he was not sexually attracted to young boys. Is his name tarnished forever, even if he is found innocent? Yes. This goes back to the same point that his “fight” to prove his innocence is coming off as disingenuous and for Sandusky himself, maybe even a little bit forced upon him. His demeanor in the two interviews portray a man who is being forced to say he is something he’s not by an attorney trying to protect their client.

  3. scottmha Says:

    I couldn’t agree with your statements anymore. I think we need to start by redefining the statement “innocent until proven guilty”. In the case of Sandusky, his reputation and opinion by the American public will never change, child molestation and pedophilia is just too heinous of a crime. By releasing the grand jury, with its graphic and detailed reports, there is no going back, the public has made its verdict on Sandusky. But what about a brutal murder case? What if the suspect was framed, and then upon being found innocent the general public is outraged a lot of #corrupt or #hewasguilty hashtags will flood twitter. This certainly is not fair to our suspects. What is the point of a trial or a jury, or even more general are legal system entirely, if we are going to make our verdict
    before the suspect was even sentenced. We need to wait and make sure these suspects are ACTUALLY guilty, opposed to being labeled as guilty by the public and media, before we tarnish their reputations and pass judgement on them. By in no means, am i saying Sandusky is innocent, or that he doesn’t deserve whats coming to him, but what if that minuscule percent chance that he is innocent is actually true?

  4. bmschmid Says:

    Great blog post and I feel the same way as the author about this topic. Maybe Sandusky is innocent or maybe he is guilty, but in the eyes of the public he is done with. Unless he had something like a Gag order about his case to suppress the media speculation, there is no way to he can be protected by the wrath of the media. This case goes to show how much influence the media has on a person’s reputation. Before viral media, there would most likely be a report on a case after the final verdict is reached. Not, like how it is now, where the media reports before a court is even scheduled. This type of media exposure (or over-exposure) has prompted the founding of Public Relations and the use of spin.

    A person is innocent until proven guilty under the eyes of the law and of the courts, but not under the eyes of the media and the general public. This is an output of the instantaneous culture we live in. People want to know the answers, right away, avoiding legal truths in the process. An instantaneous society doesn’t bode well with the lengthy process of a legal case. Some cases take years to deliberate.

    The only positive side to such an instantaneous society is the media and society’s short term memory. Look at the Kobe Bryant rape scandal. I bet most people can barely remember it. Bryant was accused of raping a woman who wasn’t his wife, the media was everywhere, and it seemed like Kobe would never have been seen in the same light. He ended up with a settlement, but he was exposed that he cheated on his wife.However, Kobe kept winning championships and the scandal eventually blew over. I don’t know if this will be the same with Sandusky because he doesn’t have the same beloved following as Kobe Bryant does, these legal issues in relation to media exposure are similar.

  5. mturner1013 Says:

    You make a valid argument here, but I respectfully disagree. It is not as if Sandusky was accused for sexually assaulting one child one time (which is still beyond terrible) but he was accused of sexually assaulting eight children over the course of 15 years! Couple that with a very descriptive 25 page grand jury report, children coming out and saying there were sexually abused, his lawyer almost bailing on him, and I think that regardless if he is innocent until proven guilty there is enough evidence on one side of the table for the media to report the story to the public. The public themselves can than choose to think about Sandusky however they want. So what I am trying to say is that Sandusky, over a looong period of time was involved in some very questionable and risky behavior, regardless of if he did those heinous crimes, he put himself in a spot where his reputation could be easily ruined. Even if Sandusky is found innocent (IMO there is NO way) then I do not think that there should be something in place to restore his reputation. His involvement in these events, and the fact that has done enough questionable things to even be accused of them means that he knew he was doing something he shouldn’t have, and therefore he’s putting his reputation on the line. His actions, guilty or not guilty have been enough to ruin multiple children’s lives, destroy a football program, and embarrass alumnus, and his reputation should be that, and solely that.

  6. nnvirani Says:

    I agree with you completely and have noticed before that the concept of innocent until proven guilty no longer applies in society today. Besides Sandusky, other examples include Casey Anthony, Brett Favre, Michael Jackson, etc. of people whose reputation was tainted as soon as the media reported their allegations. A reputation is something built over a long period of time and the longer it builds the stronger it gets. When something that can ruin this is put out into the world, that person will always be tied to the allegations whether they be true or not. Unless they be proven completely false in a very timely manner, their image is completely tarnished in the eyes of the public. Think about our lives: if there is a relationship you want to pursue and the person you are looking at has been accused of being a cheater, even if it is not true, you will not date that person. Would you want to be known as the person who tied down with the person who is bound to cheat? Probably not. Much like this, why would a sports organization, job, institution, etc. want to be associated with, in Sandusky’s situation, someone who was accused of 40 counts of pure wrong? They wouldn’t. This is not fair but in the world we live in, reputations follow you and being accused might as well be the same as being convicted of a crime. Society will still judge you whether it be true or not. However, it is possible to gain some of the reputation back but it will never reach the potential it would if the accusations did not come up. Michael Vick is a perfect example of this.

  7. aecorwin Says:

    While Sandusky’s image is probably tarnished forever, I do see your point in this post. Not regarding Sandusky specifically, but anyone falsely accused of a crime. There is an organization I know of called the innocence project who’s main goal is to free people held in prison when there is significant evidence to prove that they are not guilty of the crime. Despite how great this project may seem, freeing people who did not commit a crime, there are many other issues that are never considered. Once these people are freed, they have no idea how to function in society any longer. Most of the victims had been in jail for decades before they were able to prove their innocence. Despite the fact that they are freed from prison and able to return to society, the fact that they served jail time will follow them anywhere they go. There needs to be a way for innocent people to return to society after prison or an innocent verdict without being an outcast of society.

  8. benjishanus Says:

    You raise a very valid argument, however, there is reason why Jerry Sandusky has been highly scrutinized and ridiculed by the media. What you say is valid: in the United States of America, citizens are innocent until proven guilty. That being said, I almost see it as an unwritten rule that when the case is inevitable, people are guilty until proven innocent. Now, is it fair for me to say that Jerry Sandusky has zero chance of being proven innocent, or at least found not guilty? No, probably not. However, the chances that either of these circumstances were to occur is extremely unlikely. There is an absurd amount of evidence working against Sandusky’s case here, and absolutely no sign whatsoever that he will found innocent.

    When thinking of this, I also think of the case of Roger Clemens and using performance enhancing drugs. Was Clemens ever found to be guilty? No. BUT, there was such an enormous amount of evidence being played against him, that it is nearly impossible to believe what he said and take the side of his attorney’s. Again, same stipulations apply: he should be innocent until proven guilty, but under such outrageous circumstances, he is essentially guilty until proven innocent. Nothing mentioned in the post is incorrect regarding the way our legal system is meant to work. Unfortunately, some times in life, it is only human nature to accept what people are 99.9% certain of.

  9. joeyalessi Says:

    This is a tough one because of how the public views incidents like this one. It looks like Sandusky is going to be guilty but you never know what might actually happen. It will be impossible for Sandusky to regain his name even if he is found innocent. All of the allegations are just too condemning and inappropriate. I want to believe he is innocent but with everything that has been said, I find it impossible to take his side. I know that my viewing of this is wrong but that’s how I feel. In the Duke Lacrosse innocent years back, a few lax players were accused of raping and abusing strippers but after years of investigating this was found out to be a false accusation. Their lives are still ruined though because of the whole process. No one can look at them the same even though they are completely innocent. I hope Sandusky is innocent. It will help save the legacy of Joe Paterno and Penn State football. In a perfect world, Sandusky would be a normal man accused of a crime and he no one would look upon him differently until the verdict is out, but this is not how the real world works.

  10. reidmech7892 Says:

    Honestly this post is a great eye opener as to the many flaws our government and society have. Sadly, in the case that one is innocent until proven guilty, once a person is charge with such a horrible charge they might as well be guilty for life. In other words, there is no way of escaping the stigma that comes along with even being accused of sexual assault, especially of minors. Specifically with the media, ravaging ones identity quickly is no rare occurrence. They do have a tendency to exploit, over-exagerate, and sometimes fabricate even the slightest of events. However in Sandusky’s case, these sort of charges aren’t made just out of the blue, there must have been a legitimate reason. Moreover, Sandusky may not have done exactly what the media is saying he did, but it is definitely presumed that he did many things similar. With this, sexual charges such as this, especially one happening eight times, should leave Sandusky’s reputation is shame despite his awaiting trial. Though it may seem unfair to already be seen guilty, it is inevitable when the media convinces the world he is; even if proven innocent, to revive his reputation would be like saying O.J. Simpson was a good, innocent man despite the incriminating evidence.

  11. wjpetok24 Says:

    I completely agree with the comment of JacobDockser in that in every situation I attempt to maintain an objective opinion and let the facts speak for themselves. However, to me, this case concerning Jerry Sandusky seems beyond a reasonable doubt. His indictment and grand jury accusations are overwhelming and filled with evidence and frightening incidents in which he should be found guilty in a court of law.

    Though he has repeatedly preached his innocence, I am not surprised and am beginning to believe a certain mental disability for Sandusky. He is clearly disturbed and in the mindset of a child himself, so how can we assume anything he says isn’t completely disillusioned. My strongest feeling is that Sandusky clearly is a pedophile and should not be exonerated of any guilt. The man has terrorized our youths and society to the point of disbelief, and should be incarcerated for good. Anything less is an injustice to the victims and a discouraging sign of our society’s ability to prosecute those directly responsible for harm.

  12. mpogoda3 Says:

    This is a very interesting article that brings up great points about how the media effects the perception of society. Sandusky’s case, just like any other case involving sexuality, will never be forgotten no matter what the verdict of the court. This is so blatantly shown by reports expressing how difficult it will be to find an unbiased jury. While I do support your hope that IF he is found innocent then he should be treated as so, I think it is virtually impossible for a variety of reasons. The first and most important, is that sexual assault cases hit to close to home for everyone. Whether or not we have all been involved in these cases, we can imagine them happening to ourselves, our family members and our children when we finally get there. The second point is that our media has a greater effect on us than we can even imagine. In my Comm 102 class this semester, we are learning that how we think about everything is due to the TV, newspapers and radio. When Bill Clinton had an affair with his employee, the media was all over and that will forever be associated with him name. Luckily, that is not even close to as bad as to what Sandusky “might” have done.

  13. bmazus Says:

    This was a very interesting post to read. In my opinion if this man actually did any of the things he is being convicted for he should suffer. I feel no remorse for anybody who violates or sexually abuses anybody let alone children. Think about the children he has done this to. Will they ever heal from this horrific event in their lives? My guess is probably not.
    Jerry Sandusky will probably go to jail for the rest of his life, and we will probably all forget about this sickening situation. You ask is the public scrutiny and ruining of his public-image enough of a punishment. In my opinion it probably is not.
    Veering off your focus I also believe that Joe Paterno is extremely guilty in this scenario. I am a huge sports fan and especially college football fan, but I also consider myself to be a very rational fan. Joe Paterno knew what happened and he did not do enough. Paterno may have covered his bases and notified the correct people but that was not enough. Why did Paterno not fire this man immediately from his staff? Why did he not dial ‘911’ the moment he even had a clue of what was going on? It is sad to see a legend go down like this, but Joe Paterno is guilty of standing by and doing nothing.

  14. #jasonschwartz Says:

    I like the way you discuss what a persons name and reputation mean in this paper. The sad thing is we all have to face the reality that we live in a world of increasing social and technological connectedness. As a result, one man’s embarrassing fall in miami could be seen almost seconds later in beijing. Currently, there is no regulation against this disastrous reality. As the internet is a fairly new technology, it has no bounds. Its influence can control the masses of people all over the world. As a result, people’s reputations and names are constantly at stake 24 hours 7 days a week.

  15. goldman13 Says:

    I’m glad someone raised this point. I had watched the interviews, read the articles and followed the story intensely and i continued to think about this question. If Sandusky is actually innocent, not only is his reputation tarnished forever, but the lives of his family members (who are innocent as well) would be permanently affected. It isn’t fair for people to jump to conclusions no matter how strong the evidence at hand might seem.

    I agree with your evaluation of media in today’s world, but I’m not sure that there is a way to avoid it. The pursuit of information has encapsulated today’s world, and this continuous search for new information has given rise to companies who have the sole goal of providing this commodity (i.e cbs, nbc, fox, npr, cnn). If an accusation or scandal is repeated or talked about enough times, it eventually becomes the truth. This is what happened with Jerry Sandusky, and whether or not he is guilty, something must change with the treatment of court cases and scandals from now on.

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