Friday, July 20, 2012

Penn State: If it Was Really "All About the Victims"...

The airwaves of sports talk radio, ESPN, even the news oriented programming have been littered with commentary on the Penn State scandal of late. Again. Sports columnists, legal analysts, football coaches and ordinary citizens have voiced their opinions on the various issues connected with the scandal, most of them prefacing their comments with the obligatory, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims..." Again.

And then the debate/discussion begins. How best to handle the matter? How best to punish those involved in the cover-up without harming the innocent? What has this done to the legacy of those involved, particularly Joe Paterno?

Usually, I can listen to the banter for three or four minutes before I inevitably shake my head and change the station. I can count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of people who have, in my opinion, really struck at the heart of the matter.

"You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That's the mark of a true professional."

That is one of many Joe Paterno quotes that spoke to his players, his program, holding them to a higher standard than others. Winning the right way, with honor, and within the rules...that was the Penn State way, as scores of reporters in lockstep repeated the mantra. But now we know that the man whose statue has become a matter of great controversy sought to cover up and ignore the reality of the heinous crimes being committed by one of the standard bearers of his program. And as a result of his colossal failure to hold himself to the standard of a merely decent human being - let alone the higher standard he demanded of others - he became complicit in the irreversible scarring of other innocent boys. And while we don't know his specific thought process on the matter, and probably never will, we can safely presume that one of the primary motivating factors in the cover-up was the damage he knew it would do to his reputation and the reputation of Penn State football.

The things we men do in the name of sports glory. For shame. And I still believe that had there been just one woman in that cover-up chain of command, this would likely have been ended a long time ago.

But it is not just Paterno and the administration members who are responsible here. This is a campus, a town, a state, a society at large, run amok in the sort of "cult of personality" that comes with winning games. This was an atmosphere where grown men: a janitor, an assistant coach, an athletic director, administrators of a university, all deferred to the legend they'd helped create, if only by their compliance and their own inability to stand up and be simply decent human beings amidst the horrors of what was going on under their very noses.

Let's at least answer a few questions with unmitigated truth.

Why was Joe Paterno the most revered man in the state, let alone on campus?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong.

Why did the students riot the night he was fired?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong. Because we have raised the next generation to be as blind as we are to what really matters.

Why is it so hard for some people to imagine an institution of higher learning such as Penn State without a season's worth of football?

Answer: Because we have our priorities all wrong. Because we have raised the next generation to be as blind as we are to what really matters. Because of the money.

But if this was really "All about the victims..." the way so many commentators and critics would have us believe, then we would cut right to the chase. Truth be told, it is not unlike any other major institution that competes on the highest level of sports. This could have happened at dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other schools...quite possibly it already has. But Penn State has become the epicenter of the mess we've all created. And the chance to hit the reset button, in some small way, to spend an autumn's worth of Saturdays thinking about how such a culture could grow so great as to blind so many to what really matters.

That's what we'd all be calling for.

If this was REALLY, "All about the victims..."

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