I am a sports fan. I’ve been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. I continue to be a big sports fan. College football season is one of my absolute favorite times of year. Every Saturday from September – November, I’m watching college football. That means I am part of the current problems plaguing Penn State’s football program.
College football has become a larger-than-life enterprise of money, fame, entitlements and, sadly, fiefdom. It is this culture that causes fans to blur the lines between right and wrong when rooting for their favorite teams and alma maters.
Last year, Ohio State University fans formed a human shield around now-fired head coach Jim Tressel over evidence that he covered up violations by his top players to allow them to play (when they should’ve been suspended). Those fans, blindly and reflexively, ticked off a list of “all the good Coach Tressel has done.” They cited his charitable acts as evidence of an honest man who “just made a mistake.”
Those same types of fans are now forming a human shield around the tarnished, dented and damaged legacy of the late Joe Paterno, who was fired before the end of last season as a result of the Jerry Sandusky situation. Grown men tearfully genuflected in front of the Paternos’ home when he was fired. Students held demonstrations and took to the streets in loud protest. As with Tressel, supporters of Paterno pointed to his list of good deeds as reasons why he shouldn’t be punished.
They both got it wrong. Both sets of fans, both university presidents, and most certainly, both head coaches. “Good deeds” are not get-out-of-jail-free cards. You are not allowed to cash them in to avoid punishment for future transgressions. Jim Tressel learned that. Joe Paterno learned that. I wish the fans would learn that.
It should be pointed out that Tressel’s violations were strictly football related. Nevertheless, he broke some pretty serious rules. And how did Ohio State president G. Gordon Gee respond? Smugly. “I hope he doesn’t fire me,” he said. And that is the problem. We, as fans, are allowing these multi-million dollar programs to operate in a shadow society, where normal laws and mores do not apply because “we will handle this internally.”
More egregious, more dangerous and more frightening is the culture of conspiracy and cover-up that persisted at Penn State University that sacrificed the safety of young boys. The people in charge allowed a pedophile to continue his behavior and feeding his compulsions within the facilities. A man who should’ve been brought to justice in at least 2001 was allowed to walk free for another decade. And Paterno knew. Former university president Graham Spanier knew. And they covered it up and decided to handle it internally. How’d that work out for everyone?
“We will handle the matter internally” isn’t good enough anymore.
They allowed criminal activity to take place on their watch because they wanted to protect the cash cow. They wanted to protect the legacy of the winningest D-I head coach of all time. And they allowed a child rapist to rape young boys at their facility in the process.
The NCAA has to rein in the programs by setting an example. They let Ohio State slide with a slap on the wrist. But Penn State’s violations of ethics speak to an issue that transcends the gridiron. There is no standard for punishing a college program for its conspiracy to hide a pedophile. Let’s hope NCAA president Mark Emmert does the right thing and bring the hammer down on Penn State. At minimum, there should be no television broadcast of any Penn State games and no bowl game appearances for Penn State for at least a season. But the more I think about it, I hope the NCAA does something even harsher: the so-called “death penalty.”
Shut them down for at least a season. No games in Happy Valley for at least one full season so all those Paterno protectors can bear the consequence of defending a man who, like a mafia don, feigned ignorance about Sandusky while acting as a co-conspirator.
If this happened to one of my favorite teams, I’d be calling for it to shut down (I’m of a mind that Brian Kelly should’ve been fired for the death of Declan Sullivan).
For the sake of the victims, shut it down.