Friday, November 11, 2011

The rise and fall of false heroes

Everyone in the college football world has an opinion, many very strong opinions, regarding the fallout from the Penn State scandal. As some are aware, I have very strong opinions on the matter. However, it is fair to say that my opinion should only be regarded as my own, as one who has never attended Penn State, who has no ties to any of those involved, and little knowledge of the actual goings-on that led to this week's events.

However, I am compelled to write my own thoughts because I think this issue speaks to a lot of others that need some intense scrutiny, despite the obvious ones at Penn State.

For example, it bothers me to the nth degree that everyone thinks they know what Joe Paterno did or did not know. At best, we've heard vague descriptions of the conversations he had and of the various (sometimes very specific) policies in place regarding the alleged child rapist Joe Sandusky. Therefore, it is not fair and illogical to claim that he didn't know anything. However, the extent of his knowledge remains a fair (and legal) question that necessitates investigation. Paterno is no longer obligated to stay quiet, under the purview of Penn State. He is no longer employed by Penn State. He may, however, be obligated to stay quiet owing to legal concerns. Otherwise, he should have no qualms about stepping forward and disclosing his knowledge of the situation from beginning to end. At the very least, he owes his fans and Penn State alumni an explanation, and perhaps more importantly, the alleged victims and their families.

On the other hand, those using the "what about Sandusky?" argument to claim that Paterno has been victimized by the public, I think, are instead, to some degree, motivated to clear Paterno's name prematurely. Sandusky is an alleged child rapist. Of course he is the biggest villain here (again, alleged); to think otherwise is simply absurd. Note that he is charged with a crime, whereas Paterno is not. Legally, Sandusky is in a much graver situation than Paterno, as he absolutely should be. This argument reeks of being a diversion, or a distraction of some sort. As Sandusky is not (and was not the time the scandal broke) a coach for Penn State, the focus on him in the world of college football is simple: he's a (potential) child predator. Arrest him, and move on.

As one who watched the events at Penn State unfold over the news this week, what I saw was a chess match between Paterno and Penn State officials. That dance simply exacerbated the scandal (which was already going to be the worst in college football history), and made it a crisis of chaos. In what could end up being the perfect metaphor, no one had the guts to do the right thing -- and remove everyone involved from Penn State's coaching staff (and superiors) immediately. Paterno preemptively struck by announcing his retirement, but the situation was already out of control. This was not an issue that was going away, and his continued employment would only bring more attention to it. Paterno should have and could have taken the high road, and immediately have resigned. Instead, the ugly events of Wednesday unfolded.

This brings me to another point. There was no other option but for Paterno to step down or be fired immediately. His guilt of anything is not of principal concern in this situation. College football (and universities, in general) is (are) a business, and business decisions can be made without the justice system making decisions. Therefore, there is a right and wrong decision to have been made here. As college football consists of recruiting students, and the notion of coaches either enabling the rape of or actually raping young children on premises, the only business decision to be made is to remove everyone involved. The fact that a grand jury has already reached decisions on this matter with some of the people involved is more than enough reasoning to make the right and only decision of firing the coaches and superiors involved.

The riots after Paterno's firing are another ugly stain on this scandal. Maybe riots is hyperbole; I actually think it is. But there is no question that many, many students (and others) protested, and some violently, Paterno's firing. This is completely unacceptable, and frankly, appalling. It speaks of religious zealotry -- how football is so important to so many people that they overlook the more important matter of child rape. As expected, families of the alleged victims are reported as being "offended" by the riots -- probably a euphemism. People have right to their opinions, of course, but the public has every right to respond with our own. The insulting response of these students (and others) shows a naivete, an ignorance, that fundamentally reeks of (some) sports fans' priorities that are astoundingly jaded.

Should Paterno be demonized? I don't know. As I said, my knowledge of his actual knowledge is limited, at best. However, there is little doubt he knew "something", and that alone leaves me incredibly uncomfortable. Should his legacy be tarnished? Yes. To what extent, I do not know. But this is an issue of child rape, and however much he knew, he did not do enough. Some have provided the "you don't know what you would have done" excuse. That bothers me fundamentally. If there was even potential of someone molesting/raping children, or even "acting inappropriately" around them -- we should ALL be compelled to immediately notify the proper authorities. To do otherwise is unthinkable, to me. This is a topic in which zero tolerance absolutely applies. Some may relish Paterno's fall from false heroism. No one should. But it also does not mean he should remain on the pedestal.

Finally, I think it is high time we start putting sports in perspective. It always amuses me when Americans make fun of Latin Americans or Europeans for their rabid fandom (and sometimes violent fandom) of soccer. I'm no longer amused. Now, I'm simply saddened. We easily note the faults of others, but not ourselves. Perhaps our zealotry with all things football should be placed in a similar perspective. At the very least, perhaps our propensity for propping up false heroes should be examined. Because, inevitably, some of the mighty fall -- and fall mighty far.