Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Little Sensor

By now you've probably been thoroughly inundated with coverage of the fall of Jim Tressel and the impending doom headed toward the Ohio State football program like a locomotive. Yesterday's SI article revealed that things are worse than we thought, meaning a whopping 28 players since 2002 are now implicated. Jim Tressel is a dependable wooden rocking chair that has seen some things, many things, only to fall apart from within, bursting with ravenous termites that undermine every iota of moral high ground he once had with every bite.

Perhaps most inexplicable to me (and most disturbing) is the Brobdingnagian gap between previous public opinion of Jim Tressel and what he has now become. How were we all so fooled? While OSU had certainly not been the "model program" even before this bombshell came to the fore, I admit to holding a certain sense of respect for Tressel; a begrudging, hateful respect, but respect nonetheless. He beat us over and over again, and I almost got to the point that I wanted him to say something disrespectful, not be PC, step out of the comfortable cocoon of coach speak. Basically, I wanted him to be Mark Dantonio just for a second, just to prove that he wasn't a robot. But, Jim Tressel was not and is not Mark Dantonio, in both flaws and virtues.

The reason I say this, that I respected him, is that it only makes this all more frightening. Jim Tressel fooled an entire state, an entire conference, and the entire college football world, that he was a good guy. They called him "the Senator," but I have no doubt that he could have won the actual office if he was so inclined. Everybody was so amazingly wrong. I imagine a portrait of Tressel is sitting in some dark and musty room, gathering dust and getting uglier and uglier as a decade's worth of transgressions piled up on top of each other.

"'What does it profit it a man if he gain the whole world and lose'-how does the quotation run?-'his own soul'?"


This becomes not a question of morality, of right and wrong, of good and bad. We all know that Tressel committed violations with varying degrees of directness, from ignoring the obviously ill-gotten cars of his several of his players to the now infamous fixing of a summer camp raffle (!). SI quotes a former colleague of Tressel's:
"In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."

 What can you say?

At some point, Jim Tressel made the decision to be what he became. Tressel infantilizes the concept of morality by referring to it as a "little sensor," as if it were a fire alarm, all-seeing until you take its batteries out. Jim Tressel is a fire alarm with its batteries taken out, useless like eyes out of eye sockets. This little sensor, according to Tressel, "knows right from wrong." If only it were that easy, that automatic. It's fairly easy to do something you know is wrong if the benefits outweigh the perceived risk of punishment and/or shame. History bears that out quite well. If Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and take-your-pick-horrible-person had little sensors, it's a wonder they ever slept with the little device's constant shrieking in their heads.

It is not insignificant that Tressel has projected this understanding of morality upon this "little sensor," a thing you can imagine if you tried. He just didn't listen to that little sensor, and that's where he erred. If you ask me, this little sensor is yet another act of trickery, of a desire to deflect blame and disrepute. More often than not, the average person knows whether they are doing something wrong; they are often betrayed by their own bodies. A facial tic, a rising heart rate, a bead of sweat. These are all reactions to and precursors of deceit. Tressel is not the average person. He mastered the art of body language over the years, remaining stoic and unmoved at all times despite the assuredly great joy that every 60-yard punt and 3-yard run brought him. The happiest I've ever seen Jim Tressel look was in that picture of him with the ridiculous facial expression after the Miami game.

Perhaps it was early, then. He wasn't yet trapped by his decision to go down that dark road just yet. Like Dorian Gray's portrait, the sins accumulated over time, attaching themselves to a proxy source, until the time that all those wrongs converged upon him all at once. The same goes for Coach Tressel, who, all at once, is forced to deal with  what he's done (at least publicly). I don't doubt that he is a good man in a lot of aspects of life, but his actions, juxtaposed with a heretofore assumed air of stoic Midwestern principle, make it all the worse. Somewhere, that portrait of JT is back to its original state, the burden of his missteps transferred unto him and him alone. Leave the little sensor out of it; the batteries have been sitting in some box in his attic, next to old family picture albums and a box of long unworn Youngstown State gear. 

As I rewatched the 2003 Fiesta Bowl earlier today, I couldn't help but laugh at the way that the world drops hints along the way, randomly and without purpose. With Ohio State up 17-14 with a couple of minutes to go, the Buckeyes were forced to punt, several minutes after Mike Nugent missed a field goal to give OSU and Coach Tressel a six point lead. Roscoe Parrish returned it deep into Buckeye territory to set up a game-tying Miami field goal as time expired. The camera panned to Tressel after that return, the momentum entirely with the Hurricanes, looking on with that same stoic glare tinged with that special sort of discomfort reserved for special teams miscues. With the camera still focused on Tressel's visage, Dan Fouts presciently says:

And Tressel can't believe how quickly things have changed!

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