It seems like I'm always defending my love of football. I understand that it's a violent, brutal sport. I understand that it receives an inappropriate amount of attention in our society. I understand that athletes get away with a lot of things that other people wouldn't, simply because of a hero worship mentality. Just because millions of people look up to them, that doesn't make them good role models. However, I have a love of the game itself. The mechanics of the plays, the competition and strategy, and above all the teamwork and comeraderie that can only come from battling in the trenches together to accomplish a goal.
The scandal which has unfolded at Penn State over the past week has once again cast an ugly light on football. Penn State has long been considered the pinnacle of college football morality. They have never been charged with any recruiting violations, a majority of their players graduate with a good education, and up until now they have had no other scandals. All of that was shattered in the past 48 hours. The incredibly sordid details that have emerged will erase the legacy of the winningest coach in college football history, and tarnish the image of the cleanest cut NCAA program.
If you're not familiar with this case, then you're probably not a football fan…or don't read newspapers… or don't watch TV… or don't have the Internet (how are you even reading this???). Everyone in America is innocent until proven guilty, but the details of this case are more about moral convictions then legal convictions. Edmund Burke famously said "All that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing." That is precisely what seems to have happened here. But first a little background:
Jerry Sandusky played defensive end for Penn State in the 60s. After graduating, he became an assistant coach, eventually working his way up to linebacker coach and then being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1977. Under his defensive leadership, Penn State gained the nickname "Linebacker U," and stunned Miami University in the 1984 Orange bowl by defensively shutting down the Hurricanes high-powered offense. It was assumed that Sandusky would succeed Joe Paterno as the head coach of Penn State, but when it became obvious that Paterno had no intentions of leaving any time soon, Sandusky retired in 1999 after a shutout win in the Alamo bowl, and the players carried him off the field on their shoulders. He went on to found The Second Mile, a community organization to help disadvantaged children.
Pretty amazing career, right? Well, it turns out that Sandusky was the worst kind of monster. A Monster that outwardly looks like a successful, well respected, pillar of the community, but who uses that disguise to commit acts of pure evil. He is an American nightmare. The kind, grandfatherly, coach who is secretly destroying children's lives. In 1998, Sandusky admitted to the mother of a child he was mentoring that he had inappropriately showered with her son. No legal action was taken at the time. In 2002, a graduate assistant coach at Penn State walked in on Sandusky raping a boy in the Penn State locker room showers. The graduate assistant returned to his office and called his father for advice. His father told him to leave the building. The next day, the graduate assistant told coach Paterno what he had seen. The day after that, Paterno told school officials about the incident. The police were never contacted, no attempt was made to find out who the child was, and the only action the University took was to tell Sandusky that he couldn't bring children on campus anymore. Clearly they knew something terribly wrong was going on for them to ban him from bringing children on campus, but I guess they felt he could do whatever he wanted as long as it didn't happen on their property. Everyone involved simply wanted to keep it quiet and not do anything that would harm the sterling reputation of Penn State. Apparently, nobody had the best interests of the child, or future children, at heart. Nothing was done, and Sandusky was free for the next nine years to continue abusing little boys. Both school officials have since been indicted for perjury for lying about their knowledge of this incident.
Sandusky has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault to children, ranging from 1994 to 2009. Nine victims have come forward, and undoubtedly there will be more since a man like this is an un-repentant predator. In a horrifying irony, his autobiography published in 2001 is called Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.
I know there is a presumption of innocence, but the evidence in this case is overwhelming. Joe Paterno has insisted that Sandusky is innocent, but in the same breath he said that he and his wife will pray for the victim's families. If Sandusky is innocent, what victims? More importantly, how could somebody walk into a shower where a child was being raped and do nothing? How could a head coach find out that a child had been molested in his locker room by a man he had coached and worked with for 30 years, and not do anything about it? How could University officials find out about a molestation on their campus and not involve the police? How can all of this be swept under the rug for at least nine years allowing a hideous monster to pray on their community? For the same reasons that the Catholic Church protected, hid, and shuffled around pedophile priests for years. To protect the reputation of "important" men. To shelter a venerable and powerful institution. To not jeopardize a money making machine.
Joe Paterno announced today that he will retire at the end of the season. How noble of him. How nice of him to not force the University to make a tough decision about firing him. I saw an ESPN report today saying how "devastated" Paterno is by all of this. Like "raped in the shower" devastated, or "my precious reputation is tarnished" devastated? Some idiotic Penn State students and fans are rallying around coach Paterno. In their warped and distorted fanaticism, they value football victories, glory, and image over the well-being of countless children.
And that's why I always have to defend my love of football.
Because some crazy fans, overzealous media, corporate sponsors, and big business get their priorities way out of whack and give the game a bad name. I wish our modern culture would stop forgiving or covering up bad (and in some cases despicable) behavior simply because someone can throw a ball or coach their team to a victory, but don't blame the game of football itself for the actions of bad people. As evidenced throughout history, scandals and cover ups are a human condition, not just a sports condition.