It takes something truly major to shake sports to its core, something that involves not only a gruesome story with despicable details but significant public figures playing primary roles in the play.
That’s why I’m calling the Penn State Pedophile Coverup Scandal a seminal moment in our country’s dalliance with big-time athletics. As I’ve written before, whether consciously or subconsciously, we watch sports for the escape from the rule-breaking and unfairness of a daily life that often caters to those in power. Sport is the new opiate of the masses.
The same way that it took a Heisman-winning, 2,000+ yard-rushing, Leslie Nielson-supporting-actor to be acquitted of murder to morbidly reshape the way we look at celebrity, this scandal has a solid chance to hammer more nails into the way we treat big-time college athletics.
You need look no further than the guns being shot at Joe Paterno, who is certainly deserving of some fire. Paterno is Penn State, a football coach who is the face of one of the world’s largest universities (needless to add one of the world’s most “important” sports programs).
So while Paterno did plenty wrong in this case by not informing the police nor properly following-up on the wrongdoings of a horrific man, his name is the one constantly being talked about. Instead of referencing the fact that athletic director Tim Curley, VP Gary Schultz and pedophile Jerry Sandusky should be going to jail for a long, long time, the world is camped outside of JoePa’s door and everyone is discussing WHETHER OR NOT HE SHOULD KEEP COACHING FOOTBALL. While it’s a question worth discussing, I’m far more concerned with what the justice system and court of public opinion will do to the Curley and Schultz, big wigs with big lawyers capable of keeping dirty people out of prison.
In no way am I saying, “leave the old man who thought he did enough alone,” but this is by extension — and certainly on a relative scale — the same way we glorify four-day celebrity marriages and invite mother-in-laws on Leno rather than examining what was wrong with the institution and what can be done to fix it. Moreover, as more victims come out against Sandusky, it begs the question: How many other victims from other high-profile predators will come forward in the coming months?
I believe it’s imperative that while the Penn State story stays under the microscope, it become less about who should’ve done what and more about how the Penn State community enabled it to happen. Punishment is due, but it can be argued that at this point prevention should be the focus (and punishment is certainly part of it). As it goes, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
How appropo the term “doomed” feels here. The picture on the right is Sandusky, whose monstrous actions cued this terrible discussion. As statistics will tell you, most child molestors were too molested, often at the same age as their victims. It’s a sad, sad cycle that needs to be broken, and that can only be done by a support system that allows victims the comfort and strength to come forward. With a national focus on bullying, perhaps its time to acknowledge that while words hurt, violence against children is disgusting. My prayers go out to all victims and those who were able to keep them afloat in the wake of the crimes of sick men and women like Sandusky.