“They chose to protect themselves, Penn State’s brand and image, and their football program instead of children,” said Andrew Stubin and Justine Andronici, lawyers for some of the victims of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky. And, according to former FBI director Louis Freeh in his report on the Penn State scandal, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Shultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Joe Paterno “never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims” until after he was arrested in 2011.
That about sums it up: It’s the American way, institutions first and profit before people.
The Penn State scandal proves that there is something deeply wrong with our society and our collective culture. Yes, our society! As much as folks would like to stand on their high horse and point fingers, I suspect this kind of cover-up would have taken place at most other institutions of higher learning with a big-time sports program to protect.
Of course this says something about our society. Crimes against defenseless children were committed, and some folks are still trying to defend those who failed to report them. Some of the sports cabal even missed the point, initially choosing to talk about what the scandal meant to the football program.
Furthermore, the controversy reveals other sacred cows beside football and athletics. There is something about the nature of the Penn State program that has caused the most callous sportswriters and sports authorities to suddenly have compassion. When other programs have run afoul of NCAA rules and committed such heinous crimes as receiving free meals, free tattoos, free limousine rides, this same cabal screams punish them all.
But Brent Musburger, who usually screams punish them all, says the Penn State players are outstanding young men and should not be punished for the actions of a few. Of course, the vast majority of young men on the other squads are outstanding young men as well. Why then is there more compassion for the Penn State players than for the Ohio State or University of Miami players who were punished because a few players got an extra benefit?
But to focus on football is to miss the point. Children were betrayed, fans were misled, real criminality was allowed to flourish in so-called Happy Valley. You can’t just move on and play football. Questions have to be asked about why football was worth protecting a pedophile.
It reveals the hypocrisy of college sports. Sports are really about the ability to make money for your respective schools.As the Freeh report revealed, Paterno and the past president and athletic director were concerned about how reporting a pedophile would affect their image, hence their bottom line.
During the 2000-2001 school year, Black students got a glimpse of Penn State and Paterno’s lack of interest in helping the minority and disadvantaged in this society. President Spanier did nothing to protect Black students on that campus when they received death threats. Many wore bulletproof vests to their graduation after a threatening letter promised that a Black person would be murdered and the body of a Black man was discovered in Happy Valley.
Ironically, when the students tried to bring attention to their dire plight by sitting in at the cherished spring intrasquad football scrimmage, they were all arrested and charged. When the students appealed to Paterno, they all reported that he showed no concern at all and asserted that he was “just a football coach.”
This is nothing new in college athletics. Schools do this all the time. They throw players under the bus when they are no longer useful to them. They put the institution and its needs first. Hopefully there will be enough consequences to the Penn State scandal on and off the field that all institutions will think twice about ignoring the needs of human beings under their watch.
The NCAA should impose sanctions that make the point that this willful neglect will not be tolerated and that the welfare of children is more important than sports programs and the money they bring in. Sanctions must be imposed on Penn State to help those still trying to defend Paterno and the institution comes to grips with the damage that was done. Clearly, those clinging to the past in Happy Valley don’t get it.
This will test if the NCAA is just concerned about protecting its investments. If a school can be sanctioned for handing out a few extra dollars — which incidentally most players deserve — then surely it can punish a school for damaging the lives of children.
Failure to send a strong message that this will not be tolerated will further reveal just what kind of society we live in and who and what really counts.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.