Unless you’ve spent the past several days on the moon, measuring Neil Armstrong’s footprint in order to buy the right size lunar kicks for his Secret Santa gift this year, you know what’s going on at Penn State. The biggest sports story of the year is also, perhaps, the biggest news story in the country right now, and it’s details are being discussed ad nauseam on news programs and talk radio stations everywhere. On my way home from work yesterday, a woman called into the local sports talk station to share her two cents on the allegations and ever-growing backlash. Her opinion on the subject, while entitled to be spoken, made me want to reach through my radio and smash her face with a frying pan, ala Tom and Jerry.
In response to her comments, and to those whose minds march to the beat of the same idiot drummer, I’d like to throw my couple of pennies in for a moment. Now if you’ll indulge me, please follow along with a hypothetical:
Your favorite college football team is your life. Watching games on Saturdays is like breathing or saying “I love you” to your wife/husband, it just happens without thinking. Maybe you went to school there. Maybe your father went there, and his father before him. Maybe you simply grew up a fan because you happened to live a mile from campus and could tell the time of day based on the sounds of band practices and cheers coming from the stadium. Whatever the reason, your heart belongs to the team…along with your blind allegiance.
The school has become so synonymous with its football team over the years, it’s nearly impossible to talk about it without bringing up its success on the gridiron. Despite an impeccable reputation for providing a quality education, the university remains “a football school”. But that’s ok. That’s where the money is. The town that serves as home to this institution has built its foundation around the college and the football program is the lifeblood that keeps it running. Winning season after winning season has created an economy in this town that continues to thrive despite economic turmoil outside its city limits. Some call it “Camelot”. I can see that.
Every Camelot needs a king. A man who sits on his throne and leads his kingdom with pride and integrity. There is no doubt who the king of this town is. The head coach of your team has instilled a tradition of excellence, and winning, for over 40 years and is the face of the school. Everyone knows him. Everyone loves him. He’s earned the right to do things on his own terms and you are so grateful to have him on your side.
But then something happens. A whisper turns into several, which in turn, get louder. Words never associated with your school, begin to creep into conversation. Words like “impropriety”, “cover-up”, and “scandal”. Details slowly begins to seep out of campus and into the surrounding area like water through a bed of rocks. Then the media gets hold of it.
Just like that, what started as a trickle of information becomes a raging flood. Details are spotty, and coming from all angles, but this is what you know. Years ago, an assistant coach for your beloved football team was caught abusing drugs at a team facility. The young man who witnessed it reluctantly brought it to the attention of the head coach. In turn, the “King of Camelot” reported the incident to his Athletic Director, as is protocol in such circumstances. The AD, in an apparent attempt to preserve the reputation of his program and his school, chose to keep the information to himself.
No one took the issue any further. Over the course of the next several years, according to the reports that are quickly coming to light, this thought-to-be-one-time-incident replayed itself countless times. Drug abuse by this coach continued on as many as 40 different occasions according to the indictment brought on him. The coach was eventually removed from his position but remained active on campus, allowing him use of team facilities where it is likely that he continued his drug abuse.
With the revelation of these allegations come questions as to whether those who knew of them, did the right thing. From what you can tell, the head coach, AD, and possibly the University President chose to forget about the incident rather than tarnish the image of their school and football program. Now that the information has gotten out, the sweeping sentiment among those involved is that, in hindsight, they wish they had done more to prevent this drug abuse.
As you struggle to think that anyone associated with your football team could have committed a crime such as drug abuse, you wonder about the thought process of those who could have stopped it. With their apologies, and subsequent terminations, you tell yourself that justice has been served in this case and that the penalty fits the crime. Yes, they should be removed from their positions within the university for their part in this scandal. But when you really think about it, they were simply trying to protect an institution that meant so much to them and so much to people like you.
With that in mind, you feel you can justify their actions.
The woman who called into the radio station felt that the above hypothetical situation was akin to the real scandal taking place at Penn State as we speak. She felt that this situation was no different from other cover-ups at universities across the country involving money being given to athletes under the table or drug and alcohol abuse. “They followed their chain of command…” she said. “They thought they could handle the issue themselves, no reason to destroy all that this program has built.”
Ok, so maybe you can justify the inaction of these men in the scenario I provided above. But now do this; go back to the beginning of this hypothetical and every time you see the word “drug”, replace it with the words “child sexual”. Can you justify it now? I didn’t think so.
We’re not talking about a guy in trouble for doing drugs in the locker room. We’re talking about 40 counts of child sexual assault with potentially as many as 20 little boys. It’s not the same. I don’t care if you’re an alumni, booster, or lifelong fan…it’s not the same thing, so stop pretending it is.