Not being a regular reader of sport reporting, I wasn’t familiar with Rick Reilly. Eric Mayer explained him to me:
Rick Reilly has done sports-related human interest columns for years, first at Sports Illustrated and now at ESPN. He focuses on sports figures, but not purely their on-the-field accomplishments. Normally, he focuses on some other aspect, like their philanthropy, overcoming childhood adversity, and the like. He either shows an undue amount of sympathy or an undue lack of sympathy. Rarely is there middle ground.
He is not a lawyer.
Which makes him like most people who aren’t lawyers. And like most people who are. Even criminal defense lawyers, capable of expressing blustery argument in support of their own clients, especially when there is no one to argue the other side, are inclined to go black and white when it’s some sports hero’s butt on the line.
Now that Roger the Rocket has been acquitted, the eyes of the sporting world have turned to Jerry Sandusky, who still maintains his broad smile during his trial for 51 counts of sexually abusing boys. Rick Reilly says he’s a “coward.”
Testifying under their own names, they wept. They whispered. They trembled. One left the courthouse with a black bag over his head. Justice shouldn’t cost this much
But all eight of these young men, ages 18 to 28, had to testify because Jerry Sandusky didn’t have the guts or the courage or the decency to cop a plea and go to jail. He could’ve saved them the pain, the shame and the degradation.
If Sandusky really did abuse them the first time, then this was the second.
It may well be a steep price, but this is exactly what “justice” should cost. Though Reilly is kind enough to include the caveat, “if Sandusky really did abuse them,” which may reflect his pen or may have been forced upon him by the lawyers, he doesn’t really mean it. He has Sandusky convicted and is arguing sentence.
The hell, the anguish and the torment Sandusky put these boys through was cruel enough. To make them relive it in front of brothers and sisters, strangers and jurors, public and media, is unforgivable.
Let’s hope the judge sends Sandusky away for the rest of his days, into the general population at a federal prison, not a protected one.
Let’s see how the tickle monster goes over with those guys.
When it comes to retribution for those who sexually molest children, I’m not terribly far away from Reilly. I would, however, wait for a verdict before I throw him into the yard.
But these trials are the ones that test us. As much as we may revile an alleged crime, and empathize with the purported victims, we have a system by which people accused of crimes are entitled, entitled as in it is their absolute right, to challenge their accusations before we punish them. The right to a trial isn’t protected for those we favor and denied to those we don’t. It isn’t limited to those about whom the public thinks a doubt may exist and denied to those we don’t.
It isn’t balanced with our concerns for the pain a trial may cause a victim against the benefit of trial theater to a defendant we’ve already convicted. Everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a trial. This is the American way.
If Reilly thinks Sandusky is a coward, then I think Reilly is unAmerican.
In my country, the idea of someone being innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock principle, no matter how disgusting the crime of which they’re accused, no matter how overwhelming the evidence appears and no matter how ridiculous the excuses in defense. It is not the defendant’s burden to prove he’s not guilty, but the prosecution’s burden to prove he is.
This trial isn’t about Sandusky explaining his conduct, whether he claims to be teaching young men how to use soap in the Penn State locker room showers, or playing “tickle monster” with their genitals. This trial is about the government proving that a person committed a crime. Only after that happens do we get to ponder how other inmates will welcome him into the fold.
Is it ugly and painful for victims of a crime? Absolutely. And it’s ugly for the innocent person who spends 30 years in prison because this system, the trial, does such a lousy job of distinguishing the guilty from the innocent. It may turn out that the system works better in this trial than most, given the evidence against Sandusky, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the right to a trial.
Reilly may see the evidence against Jerry Sandusky as overwhelming, leaving no doubt in his mind that he’s guilty as sin. He’s allowed, especially since he gets no vote on the jury and its mere puffery at this point. But Reilly has no call to diminish Sandusky’s exercise of his constitutional right to trial by calling him a coward for doing so.
In America, defendant’s get tried and, if the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt, then convicted. We don’t divvy up trials between those who may be not be guilty and those we all know are guilty beforehand and don’t deserve the rights of Americans. As much as we may empathize with those who will be rightfully called victims should a conviction follow, this is the cost levied by the system on everyone, innocent, guilty, victim and accuser.
As Eric noted, Reilly is not a lawyer. But if he’s an American, then he ought to know how we do things here. You don’t have to be a lawyer to realize that our freedoms demand that Jerry Sandusky get a trial. When Reilly attacks Sandusky for exercising his rights, he attacks America for having a Constitution that protects its freedoms. Not very sporting of him.