We have several theories in Sociology about deviant behavior. Some of the theories ask why people break the rules. Others ask why people conform to the rules to begin with since there are attractive and exciting things to do that violate the rules. But there's one theory that doesn't ask either question. Labeling theory says asking why people break the rules or why they conform to the rules is a moot point because we ALL commit deviant behavior. Some commit more deviance than others and some commit more serious deviance than others but all of us break the rules. Because of that, Labeling theory says that attempting to divide society into the good guys and the bad guys is an exercise in futility because the only difference between people is that the bad guys got caught and the good guys didn't; at least not yet.
We see this theory brought to reality practically every single day and we've seen it again in epic proportions this week. Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old legendary coach of the Penn State football team, was fired yesterday for not doing enough when he learned of the salacious nature and behavior of one of his assistant football coaches who many believed would succeed Paterno when he finally retired. And the more we learn about this story, the worse it gets.
According to witnesses, this former assistant coach has been seducing young boys since 1994.
And when I say young, I mean really young; some are in fact alleged to be pre-teens. Paterno first learned about the behavior in 2002 when a graduate assistant saw the assistant coach intimately involved with a younger boy in the shower at Penn State and reported what he saw to Paterno.
According to the rules of the institution, Paterno was obligated to report any kind of bad behavior to his superior which he did but he didn't notify the police.
His superior didn't notify the police either and so this behavior continued.
One of the interesting things about this story is that although the former assistant coach has been doing this for the past 17 years and still had access to Penn State athletic facilities as late as a couple of weeks ago, it only became public the week after Paterno passed Eddie Robinson to become the winningest coach ever in big time college football.
The aftermath of these sordid incidents also cost the president, the vice president and the athletic director at Penn State their jobs too and it comes only months after the scandal at Ohio State University that cost their football coach, Jim Tressel, his job too.
A couple of years ago, Tressel wrote a book about the morals and ethics of doing your job the right way, which takes us full circle back to Labeling theory.
There are a lot of "do-gooders" in every community who are quick to condemn others for their deviant behavior and to hypothesize on high to whoever will listen about the evil things that men do.
There are people who will point fingers and throw stones at others based on rumor, gossip or innuendo without any first-hand knowledge of what happened at all. There are people who set themselves up as judge and jury, ready to condemn, whenever somebody else takes a misstep.
So the next time you're on the receiving end of critical comments made by others, just remember that they're no angels either.
Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno, elected officials, celebrities, law enforcement personnel, the clergy and people from every walk in life have proven that and will continue to do so.