Even though I’m not a Penn State fan, today was a pretty dark day for me.
I am a big college sports fan, and I might like college football even more than pro baseball. Part of it is the players – despite what people think, there are many more college athletes who are humble about who they are and where they are than there are “hot dogs” who are just making a pit stop on the way to a big payday. I won’t lie – all of the stuff around college football (the tailgating, the avid fans, the bowls, all of it) is pretty attractive too.
I’ve also long been an admirer of Joe Paterno. Even though I’ve never been particularly drawn to his team, I’ve always assumed he was one of the “good guys” – he made sure his kids graduated, and he made sure his kids acted the right way.
So today was sad. Since the scandal first broke, I thought the worst Paterno had done was some type of sin of omission – he didn’t know what was going on, or at absolute worst he chose to ignore what he should have seen. We now know he not only knew what Sandusky was accused of as early as ’98, he actively chose to cover up his knowledge. Even more damning, he seems to have done so simply to avoid tarnishing the name of PSU football.
Instead of being one of the “good guys”, the reality of Paterno is that he was far worse than Jim Tressel, or the coaches at SMU, or Pete Carroll; while they broke NCAA rules on benefits to athletes to field better football teams, he used his power and position to cover the fact one of his “friends” molested children, all in the name of keeping his (Paterno’s) name clean. And he never once thought he’d done anything wrong.
Some are calling for the NCAA to invoke the “death penalty” on PSU, much like they did with SMU. While that sounds like “justice”, I’m not sure that it’s right. The NCAA has clear rules, and one is that they only impose the “death penalty” on repeat offenders and PSU has no other infractions. It would be like sending someone to the gas chamber for stealing the last piece of food from a homeless shelter – disgusting as it sounds, our laws are clear on what the limits of punishment are. In addition, every major player in this tragedy is no longer associated with PSU – Jerry Sandusky is going to jail for the rest of his life; Paterno is dead; assistant coach Mike McQueary (who witnessed an episode involving Sandusky), President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz all lost their jobs long ago (Curley and Shultz await trial for both not reporting the abuse and lying to the grand jury about it; while not currently charged, the Freeh report seems to show that Spanier also lied). In other words, every single person with direct or indirect knowledge of what was going on has already been punished.
On the other hand, this whole episode just underlines what the “bigtime college sports haters” drone on and on about – that major college athletics is completely out of control. After all, if Joe Paterno, supposedly the most saintly of all college coaches, can allow something like this to go on, what isn’t going on on campus?
I hate that it has come to this; it destroys everything I believed about college athletics. I always believed that while there were schools and coaches that thought they were above the law, there were also guys like Joe Paterno who could do it the right way.
I think part of it is the system that has become college football and basketball. When others have complained about the culture (read: money) of college football and basketball, I’ve often said that the problem isn’t the colleges but the pros; that if the NFL and NBA had a true minor league like MLB, those sports would be as clean as college baseball (that team up north excluded). Maybe I was more right than I thought I was.
Maybe this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back; just maybe we will all (college administrators, coaches, and fans) take a step back and look at what their real mission is: To prepare students for their professional careers, with sports there as a diversion.
I know the arguments that are made, the biggest one being that athletics draws in students who otherwise couldn’t afford a college education. The answer is that in all but 7 schools, the athletics department costs the university money; and in all but a handful of schools they could get rid of high-priced athletics, offer grants to an additional 100 poor kids, and still come out money ahead (even athletic departments like Texas Tech and Georgia Tech cost their schools millions of dollars a year).
When the news of Jim Tressel broke, I vowed not to wear any of my Ohio State clothes until he was fired; I couldn’t bring myself to publicly support a school that would allow someone to flout the rules of amateurism and fair play so brazenly. Now what do I do? Penn State has shown that there are no bounds; they think it’s not only OK to allow the most heinous of actions to take place, but that it's OK to cover those actions up merely to keep the façade of their good actions alive.
Maybe I’m done. Maybe this is the straw that breaks my college sports loving back. I feel like the parent who refuses to admit that my child really is a drug addict, or the boss that is facing the possibility that my most trusted employee has stolen millions of dollars from me.
I do know one thing: I'll never see college football the same.