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The Astros Are Penn State

When Penn State fans chant “We Are…”, you might as well fill in the back end of the statement with “the Astros”. Based on this week’s events, the similarities between the attitudes of the Astros in 2020 and the attitudes of rioting Penn State fans in 2011 regarding the most offensive atrocities that members of each organization committed are equally odious and poetically aligned.

The Astros are only cheaters. They aren’t child molesters, but OJ Simpson “isn’t a murderer” either. But if the Astros were child molesters, is there any evidence they wouldn’t respond to getting caught in the same abhorrent way that rioting Penn State students did? That is, when it came to light that their beloved longtime coach had failed to report violent sexual abuse that occurred within the Penn State locker room by another beloved longtime coach of the school? With delusion, denial, arrogance, and victimology on a scale so gargantuan that it shocked and horrified the nation?

The actions of the Astros so far can easily be described by the same adjectives.

The Astros’ press conference this week was a tragedy. If one were to rank the emotions exhibited from 1 to 10, delusion would be a 10, arrogance a 9, denial an 8, and victimology, well pretty much off the charts. Actual contrition, actual remorse for anything but being caught? Even actual acknowledgement that they did anything wrong? Both so infinitesimal they wouldn’t register on the scale. The Astros aren’t sorry and they never will be.

The Astros’ press conference will go down as an image captured in history not unlike the violent protests at Penn State in which some (not all) students angrily and emotionally fought on behalf of the coach who protected a child molester. To many Americans, those images are seared into our minds because they illustrated a culture so twisted as to be inexplicable: at Penn State students so caught up in football culture that they chalked the firing up to a greater injustice than any of the atrocities that had happened that led to it – atrocities that included 48 counts alleging child rape and other crimes. To them, they themselves, the students, were the victims because their coach had been fired, in lieu of than the actual victims who had experienced unimaginable crimes. Their riots oozed not an ounce of introspection about how the culture of football worship might have created the conditions for such horrors. It was a dark day for the university.

The Penn State protest was inadvertently revealing: if the premise of the scandal was that the football culture was so rabid and singularly focused on winning that it created the conditions by which a child molester could be overlooked in plain sight, the twisted response of the students was Exhibit A in demonstrating that culture. By protesting, the students showed to the entire nation just how distorted the views of morality in some corners of State College had become. If ever there was a place where the cover-up of a child molester were possible, those corners of Penn State were clearly that place. That the students didn’t see the irony underscored the point.

The press conference in Houston seemed similarly twisted. While every facet of it was remarkable, the most jarring thing about it was that it didn’t appear the Astros even thought they had done anything wrong. The press conference exhibited such a confusing and bumbling incompetence to apologize in the right way – meshed with undertones of delusional victimology that the Astros were the true victims because now nobody liked them (sound familiar?) – that delusion itself provided some clarity: if a room of multimillionaires couldn’t figure out in 2020 that their own sophisticated cheating was worth an apology, why should we expect that in 2017 they’d have had any moral qualms not to cheat on the scale it’s alleged they did it?

Based on the comments of some of the Astros, it’s clear the narrative they will try to paint moving forward: for no reason it’s now them against the world. The poor little innocent Astros, just like Hitler in World War II, inexplicably thrust into a global conflict where everyone seems to be against them. Poor them.

Many articles have come out in recent days about the kinds of punishments the Astros should receive now that baseball’s commissioner has decreed that he isn’t going to punish the players. Because the rest of the world is a good place, it’s created a public debate about which kinds of punishment may be right (loud booing) and which kinds might be wrong (pitchers throwing at players’ heads). To those who feel slighted by the Astros’ awful attitudes, this debate is frustrating. Perhaps the Astros will get the bad karma they deserve in other ways. Or perhaps they will one day wake up and realize that they’ve made themselves look like awful human beings.

Or not. At least if the Penn State case is any example. Have any lessons actually been learned there? In State College many of the same rabid fans continue to cheer their lungs out, defending criminal ex-coaches, still unsure why the world was disgusted at them nine years ago. There, they are still waiting for a championship that will be their redemption moment, in which they’ll be able to claim the ultimate triumph over the world that doesn't like them anymore. In Houston, the team is good enough that their redemption moment may come sooner. The world will be disgusted, but they’ll get to celebrate. We might say they were cheaters too vile to even apologize when caught, but they live in a different universe. “We are…”, they’ll say. And they’ll continue to believe that belting out the back end of the statement is received as a positive.

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