Rant: the Penn State Penalties

I’ve been following the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case since it broke. The Freeh report, which explicitly blamed Sandusky’s continued ability to molest children on the deliberate actions of those in power at Penn State, including legendary football coach Joe Paterno (arguably the most powerful man on campus), led to unprecedented penalties against the university and its football program. And it should: supporting and covering up a child molester, knowingly allowing him a decade’s worth of freedom to continue his vile crimes, deserved the harshest penalties possible.

And yet, there are apologists. There are people who think this punishment is unfair, that it tarnishes Paterno’s “legacy.” To them, I say, wake up: this is Paterno’s legacy.

But the thing that irks me most about their arguments, the thing that most makes me want to slap these people, is this:

It’s a children’s game.

This detail has gotten lost in the minutiae of the Sandusky/Paterno affair, and the Penn State response, but it’s crucial. Football may be played by adults, but it’s a children’s game.

Think about the vast amounts of money given to these men for coaching and playing the same game any eight-year-old plays. Yes, they play it better, but it’s the same game. We support, indulge and overlook horrendous conduct by these people, for playing a damn children’s game well. We’ve destroyed our higher education system, once the envy of the world, by pouring all the university money into a goddamned children’s game.

In the article linked above, Ujas Patel, who heads the Penn State alumni association chapter in London, says the NCAA penalties unfairly target the future of the football program that he described as vital to the university. The fact that a football program is vital to a university, more vital apparently than abused children, shows just how out of whack our cultural priorities have become.

The next time you watch a football game, college or pro, ask yourself how your life changes based on the outcome. Unless you’re part of the economic chain directly connected to it, the answer is: not at all. The winning or losing of a children’s game doesn’t, and shouldn’t, ultimately matter in the real world.

The fact that it does, and the fact that grown men considered it more important than raped children, is something that every coach, player and fan of every sport should think about.

5 Comments on “Rant: the Penn State Penalties”

  1. As a member of the higher education community, I agree with much of what you’ve said (yes, there’s a ‘but’ coming).

    Athletics and academics are in fact separate (even at my SEC school). However, academics are and will always be a money pit. Like it or not, how well our teams play very much impacts our private funding, and without private funding… . People are far more familiar with the teams’ records than with the faculty’s funding or publishing records.

    I recently donated to my college academic AND athletic funds (I also work for my alma mater). And yes, I own football season tickets.

    The actions of the coaches and administration of Penn State should be reviled, and every one of us in academia, and academic athletics, should take a look at them and at ourselves. The penalties were deserved – and necessary. But I can tell you that even at a school that has a strong ACADEMIC legacy like Penn State, this penalty will likely impact far more than the ‘children’s game’ for years to come.

    Maybe that’s what it’ll take to break the silence.

  2. You hit the nail on the head. I keep thinking that if my Dad was still here he would be so disappointed in his favorite team. I can see him burning his Penn State stuff in my head. The whole damn mess should never have happened.

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