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The Penn State Scandal

July 24, 2012 - Al Stephenson
This will be the third time that I have started this blog. Every time I get a handle on what I want to say, new information comes out and I rethink my opinion. I start and stop. One would think that it would be simple to record a few thoughts on the biggest sports scandal in history. It isn't simple however. Life itself is not simple.

For better or worse, here are my thoughts on the Penn State situation.

First, let me suggest to all those people who say that they would have done this or done that - I don't believe you can say that with absolute certainty. It is very easy to say what you would do well after the fact. If you were actually in a situation where you had to make a difficult decision, my guess is that it would not be simple at all. It would be better if you say, "I like to think I would have done this!"

It would appear from the Freeh report that Penn State officials (in particular Coach Joe Paterno) had knowledge of Jerry Sandusky's despicable activities and chose to remain silent. How, one wonders, could this possibly happen? Well let's take a look. None of the following reasons justify their behavior, but it may shed some light on how something this heinous could have happened.

Joe Paterno had a reputation for handling problems relating to the football team himself. He often butted heads with university personnel concerning questions of poor conduct by his players, prefering to deal with it as the head coach rather than letting someone else handle "his" problems. Some admired this as many coaches would pass the buck. Others suggested that he did this so he could put his best players on the field and win ballgames.

Is it possible that Joe Paterno's ego made him turn a blind eye to Sandusky's behavior? The bad publicity would be a bad thing for Paterno's legacy and thus we cannot let people know. If the man had a huge ego this could help explain the so called coverup. Again this does not excuse anything. I'm just trying to explain how all of this could happen.

How about loyalty to a friend as an explanation. I have a few very dear friends. I would like to think I would stand by them through thick and thin as they would do the same for them. At some point you must abandon your support if the friend gets too far out of line. Finding that line is difficult for many, particularly if you aren't sure about the friend's behavior. Was this the case for Joe Paterno?

Another plausible theory for all the culprits in the coverup including University President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley as well as Coach Paterno could be their loyalty to the University itself. This may be the explanation we're all searching for. To protect the University from the bad publicity, they chose to coverup the activities and hope that everything would eventually go away. That didn't happen and now Penn State University will pay a dear price. The coverup is often considered by many to be as bad as the actual crime, though that's hard to imagine in this case. Watergate, Tattoogate and any other gates you can think of prove this. You would think people would learn.

The sanctions handed down yesterday by the NCAA will likely destroy the football program at Penn State for the foreseeable future. Can they ever recover? I think so, but it will take time. Will innocent people be hurt by the sanctions? Of course they will, but then again some very young innocent boys were hurt much worse by the activities of a bad man and the reluctance to do anything about it by presumably good men.

As I watched Mark Emmert explain the sanctions a couple of thoughts ran through my head. First and foremost was a belief that I have had for some time that college football programs have become too big and powerful. There is so much money to be generated with a good football team, that universities overlook a lot of things to preserve and protect the golden goose. Penn State is not alone in this. All the big time college football programs could have had something similar to this happen to them.

What appealed to me as I watched the sanctions be handed down, was the thought that the NCAA was finally going to try to corral the big football factories and make them responsible. It is time to change the culture of big time college athletics. Can it be done? Can it be done by the organization that just created a college football playoff and will soon be selling the rights to hold the title game to the city that is the highest bidder? That remains to be seen.

The view from my seat suggests that the worst moment college football has given us may give us the reason to insist that we create the best college athletics have to offer. I do hope that will be the case.

 
 

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