Pete Rose and Joe Paterno

It’s time for a sports update!

OK, not really.

It’s really an essay on the fallibility of man.

No, that’s not it either.

It’s about the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time without having it explode.

Pete Rose is a former Major League baseball player, having played for the Reds and the Phillies, and having managed the Reds. He is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and outs (10,328). He is currently ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame because he is accused of betting on Reds games while he was their manager. (He admitted to betting for the Reds, but never against the Reds.)

Joe Paterno is the former head coach of the Penn State football team. He has the most wins of any college football coach. In addition, his football teams have had some of the best graduation rates in all of college football. He was fired in 2011 for his part in covering up the sex abuse scandal for which Jerry Sandusky was convicted and jailed. Paterno died in 2012.

Do you have a hard time wrapping your head around these contradictory descriptions of two of the most renowned sports figures in the 20th century? If so, you’re not alone. People’s reactions to both men cover a wide range: shock, surprise, minimizing of the bad in light of the good, all the way to denial of the bad deeds.

It is possible, heck, it’s realistic, for people to have good and bad qualities. In fact, as it had been pointed out to me, there are some Biblical figures who show good and bad qualities. Noah, the one righteous man God chose to survive the flood, was found drunk and naked by his family after the ark landed. King David sent the husband of Bathsheba, Uriah, to the front battle lines, where he was sure to be killed, so he could have Bathsheba.

There is a saying “Love the sinner, hate the sin” that can help make sense of the actions of people who do good and bad. Or, to paraphrase the words of a friend of mine, “He’s not an evil person. He’s a good person who occasionally does evil things.” It is important for all of us to understand that good actions and evil actions can come from the same people.

There is more to this than just making sense of people doing good and bad things. There is a more general problem with the way many people handle contradictory facts.

There is a psychological effect called cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort felt when holding on to two contradictory ideas or being presented with a fact contrary to one’s own beliefs. To relieve the stress, people generally discount one or the other idea. This idea is summed up nicely in a cartoon. Two boys are outside a movie theater. One poster screams, “Scariest horror movie ever!” Another poster screams, “Lowest movie prices in town!” One of the boys says to the other, “It must not be very scary.”

We are so inundated with information that we need to simplify and categorize to keep track of it all, and when a piece of information doesn’t fit into one of our pre-defined categories, we tend to make it fit. Usually, we do this in a way that reinforces our current beliefs.

This kind of thinking is prevalent all over Facebook. Memes abound, and they oversimplify issues that are multi-faceted. This is why I decided to move my diatribes to this forum, where I have more space to be analytical and thoughtful than is permitted on Facebook. I might lose the immediate effect of responding to a statement that needs to be analyzed more in depth, but I have found out that it doesn’t seem to change the tenor of the discussions. Maybe discussions can be more in depth here.

I do hope more people read this, and take the time to reply and start discussions in this blog. Meme-free.

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5 thoughts on “Pete Rose and Joe Paterno

  1. Pedophilia is obviously a huge social more and taboo (and might I add one of the more heinous things a person can do), but Joe Paterno didn’t commit that crime. He merely was in denial, then tried to handle it “in-house” and covered it up. All awful things, things that enabled this heinous crime.

    Rose, on the other hand actually committed his crimes and not just betting on games of course. Of course what happens in and to a game, even though it is a multi-billion dollar industry isn’t beans compared to a serial pedophile ring..but Rose’s transgressions of course go farther than this, which makes me suggest reading the Dowd report which was the result of the investigation into whether Rose bet on games.

    If you believe that the Dowd report (which was not made for publication and has been pointed out is a “prosecutor’s brief” so to speak and not an adjudication of facts) Rose not only bet on baseball, and against his teams but was involved in organized crime, drug dealing, the peddling of illegal performance enhancers (to minors as well), sexual conduct that, while no one talks of minors, certainly broke the good housekeeping seal. Further and tellingly Dowd found everything that he was asked to see was there and explicitly said that had he not been limited in his portfolio to a certain set of dates and topics that pretty much anything you wanted to find about Rose, you would.

    None of which is to litigate the Rose matter. It’s just to point out that the topic of cognitive dissonance here is rather complicated – and the juxtaposition of these two different cases makes for an excellent illustration.

    1. Yes, even more reason why it’s important to delve deeply into matters such as these. Different people simplify the situations in different ways. On the one hand, pedophilia is much worse than gambling. On the other hand, Rose actually committed the infraction himself, while Paterno “merely” covered it up.

      The situations remind me, in only the most tangential way, of an article I saw on a wargame simulating the WWII battle for Arnhem Bridge. 70% of the people who responded to a poll said the game was unbalanced. Looking more closely at the poll, 35% said it was an easy win for the Germans, and 35% said it was a slam dunk for the Allies.

      Even for events that seem to lead to obvious conclusions, people will draw totally different obvious conclusions.

  2. I don’t see any cognitive dissonance here at all.
    There are no such things as contradictory facts. Only facts that we WISH were contradictory sometimes!

    Regardless of their accomplishments in the world of sports (which I admit not lending a whole boatload of weight to – nothing like accomplishments in the worlds of science, or engineering, or the arts in my book), they did some bad stuff, got caught, and suffered consequences.

    Are we supposed to be surprised that someone who has good at throwing baseballs was also less than ethical with respect to his gambling and sexual exploits? I’m sure not. Are we supposed to be surprised that people who have been running a program for 30 years might put the program over ethics? Hardly. Paterno trying to protect the program is no different from Catholic Bishops trying to protect the Church shuffling pedophilic priests from parish to parish. Disgusting, horrible, terrible – perfectly HUMAN.

    There are people who will turn a blind eye toward (or not even NOTICE) behavior from someone they consider an ‘US’, while condemning the exact same behavior in a ‘THEM’. Happens in politics every day. Again, disgustingly human.

    And…?
    Sorry, but I’m not seeing a lot of there here.

    1. You’re right James, facts are facts. “Good vs. bad” or “good vs. evil” is where the contradictions come in. Many people can’t reconcile both facts. You’ve done so by discounting the fact of their accomplishments. I’ve heard many others discount the fact of their transgressions.

      This to me is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance; the unease people have when trying to reconcile two sets of facts that seem to contradict each other. It is interesting, as we have seen right here, how different people respond to the dissonance and discomfort.

      Your argument against cognitive dissonance happening here is to me the perfect example in support of cognitive dissonance.

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