Over the past week, there has been an obsession with the news out of State College, PA. At first glance, it is easy to get swept up in the drama of the fall of one of the greatest college coaches of all time. Joe Paterno is responsible for 409 victories, 24 bowl victories, 3 Big 10 championships and 2 National Titles. Penn State football has been an institution within the college sports world. With his contract ending at the conclusion of the season, Paterno was considering retiring after starting as an assistant coach in 1950. As the news of a scandal began to surface, he officially announced that he would step down as head coach after the final game of the season. While his announcement came first, the university determined that the scandal and his involvement was too severe to allow him to finish on his timeline and terminated him on Wednesday evening.
Without going into the entire details of the scandal, Jerry Sandusky was arrested on Saturday November 5th for 40 counts of child abuse over a 15-year period. In 2002, Joe Paterno was informed by a graduate student (Mike McQueary) that Sandusky had engaged in a sex act with a 10-year old in the locker room showers. Paterno reported the issue to Athletic Director Tim Curley the next day, but his actions ended there. For Paterno specifically, the question is not whether he did anything but whether he did enough. Concerns have risen about his level of knowledge of Sandusky’s actions or even simply the accusations of Sandusky’s conduct. Allowing a potential sex addict and child abuser to use the university facilities could be easily seen as negligent on Paterno’s part. Along with Paterno, President Graham Spanier, AD Tim Curley and Senior VP Gary Schultz are all being investigated and have had their ties cut from the university.
There have been a lot of different perspectives about the scandal but the most disturbing one is that the legacy of a football coach is more important than trauma experienced by the victims of sexual abuse. Students and fans have been devastated first by the news of Paterno’s involvement, second by the announcement of his retirement at the end of the season in light of the events and finally the university’s decision to remove him as head coach. Riots have broken out over Paterno’s termination with students crying out for the reinstatement of their beloved coach or for justice in comparison to the other individuals involved. Students have been damaging property and starting fires in their outrage. Many students have been recorded on camera claiming that Paterno is being used as a scapegoat and is innocent of any wrongdoing.
At what point did sports top human rights? Unfortunately this is not the only example in our history. Although not related to college athletics, the Catholic church has gone through similar accusations of representatives mistreating young boys. In both situations, there certainly is a feeling of a tarnished record for the larger organization, but the reality is that individuals messed up and the rest of the institution does not have to fall apart under the identified mistakes. The Catholic church still supports millions of followers in supporting their faith and spirituality, just as Penn State football will continue to press on with a different coach and even still play their game tomorrow against Nebraska. The icons within each organization may have to step aside but their involvement and legacy are forced to be sorted out over time.
I am a huge fan of the Daily Show. Jon Stewart has a way of turning comedic bits about current events into easy to swallow presentations of real breaking news. Much of his time recently has focused on Herman Cain’s sexual misconduct and refusal to recognize that “no means no” and Rick Perry’s blackout on stage during a Republican debate, but on November 10, 2011, Jon took a couple minutes at the end of the show to talk about his perspective on the Penn State riots. My comparison of the Penn State scandal to the Catholic church came from his discussion last night. For those two minutes, he simplified the Paterno story to highlight the god-like status students have bestowed on the coach and they have made it out to be more important than the actual victims. As he wrapped up the monologue, he called out the students for the fact that they will not have to actually miss out on any football as to diminish the chance of any trauma to their college experience as they could not handle that scar in their lives. When he nearly apologized for taking the time out to air his thoughts and the thoughts of his staff, I was in immediate support for him still choosing to broadcast the clip. Since then, it has been shared widely on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
In the end, the Paterno madness will die down and the students will gain some perspective. Unfortunately, the game tomorrow will not help the cause. There are hundreds of subplots and potential explosive points, which actually indicate that it would be smarted to cancel the game, forfeit it to Nebraska or reschedule it at Nebraska or a neutral site. The media networks are planning to get BCS Bowl Game-size audiences watching the game to experience the matchup and the drama associated with the scandal. Will Paterno appear at the game? What will the student reaction be regarding the individuals involved in the scandal? Will there be bigger support for the victims or for the former coach? In the end, this game will need to come and go before every can return their focus on what’s important.
Here are some of the videos that reference the events of this past week:
Jon Stewart’s Reaction to Penn State Riots
Mother Speaks Out
Student Reactions Post-Riots
Anderson Cooper Highlights Possible Involvement of Many Individuals
Wrong Focus for the Penn State Riots