While words struggle to describe the depravity of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s alleged actions, perhaps the most troubling component of the entire case was the lack of perspective employed by those in power to stop him.
Coach Joe Paterno, undoubtedly the most heralded casualty of the scandal, was fired last week by the school’s board of trustees, causing an intense uproar in the Penn State community.
Although it is easy to sit far from State College and condemn those impassioned protestors who took to the streets in Paterno’s defense, the question must be asked if we would do the same thing on the Hilltop. Would we be enraged over the firing of a historic coach amid such a scandal, despite the ill-fated consequences this action would have on the program?
I hope our response would first include support for the victims and reflection on the circumstances that allowed such crimes to be perpetrated against them. Only after giving them their proper due would we mourn the departure of a beloved coach. The necessary expulsion from the program of the perpetrators and collaborators would not be met with rage and disorder, but rather a regretful understanding that their actions must be publicly and decisively punished.
Some have said that the rioting students in State College represented a minority of the Penn State student population. Such an assertion is fair, as there were only a thousand or so students on the streets out of a school of more than 40,000. However, a Washington Times article from the weekend shows that the hearts of the Penn State faithful were more in line with the angry students.
The article tells of a Penn State alum who demonstrated outside the stadium before last Saturday’s game with signs reading “Put abused kids first” and “The kids are what this day is about, not who wins or loses.” Instead of receiving support, the alumni was showered with expletives and had beer thrown at him. Nittany Lions football seemed to trump all moral reason.
While again it can be said that those fans are in the minority, it is perhaps more realistic to assert that the anger and sense of injustice over the Paterno firing is widespread among the Penn State faithful, since excessive actions of the student body (e.g. turning over TV vans) has received only modest criticism from these now alienated individuals.
It is impossible to come up with a parallel scenario in American sports that would elicit such strong contrasting emotions. Paterno has been the head coach at Penn State since 1966 and is the unquestioned public face of the university. In his last game, he became the winningest coach in Division I football history.
Regarding his role in the scandal, Paterno lived up to his legal obligations by passing on what was reported to him to his superiors. When the alleged crimes came to light, he announced his retirement effective at the end of the season, so as not to be a lasting distraction. Hours later, he was fired in a phone call with the school’s board, an impersonal and curt end to a monumental career. With this understanding, perhaps one can begin to enter the mindset of those at Penn State.
But then again, when it comes to the sexual abuse of children, going beyond what is legally required to ensure that such abuse ends ought be the expected and required course of action. Sports must be kept in perspective.
Hopefully, as a result of this scandal, we will know the proper course of action, but never have to pursue it.
Tell Adam what course of action would you pursue with him at email@example.com