Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I love to brag to my friends, family, co-workers, and basically any passerby that I got to go to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington to work earlier this year. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I'll never forget it. I worked with sports directors from New York and central Pennsylvania. One of the guys I worked with was the sports director at WTAJ-TV in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Just a short while ago, I saw a van with that station's logo emblazoned on the side being flipped over by a group of rioting Penn State students, following the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno. I thought about the anger they felt tonight, and as both a member of the media and a human being with a heart and conscience, I can't help but be irritated about their misplaced rage.
Coach Paterno is nothing less than a saint in central Pennsylvania (and beyond), and deserves all the accolades afforded him as major college football's winningest coach. But no one man is bigger than the tragedy that the nation has learned about within the last week.
A grand jury report lists eight young boys as victims of sexual abuse by former Penn St. assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. We now know that more victims not named in that report have come forward, saying Sandusky abused them as children. The scope of this man's (alleged) villainy may never be known. What is known is that the area of Pennsylvania occupied by this university prioritizes the Nittany Lions football program above almost everything else.
As I watch the coverage of Paterno's ousting, and watch the students infuriated by the news, I realize how much that football program is deified. And that's when I start thinking about the facts of this case. Imagine you're one of Sandusky's victims. You're a young boy, and an avid sports fan. Now, to me, being a sports fan means loving the Rangers, Cowboys, and Mavericks, but to someone from State College, Pennsylvania, it means Nittany Lions football (I highly recommend this article from grantland.com, written by a man who grew up surrounded by the culture of Penn State football, and the Paterno family itself). Many of the known victims were taken in by Jerry Sandusky, a major figure in that program, and given plenty of attention before being exposed to unspeakable acts. This is not a random criminal, or a stranger; the parents of these children didn't warn them to avoid people like Jerry Sandusky.
God only knows how many children have grown into young adults with the stigma of having been sexually assaulted by this man. I fear it's highly possible some may have taken their own lives, having never told anyone what they were subjected to. Those who lived on likely kept quiet because they have lived their whole lives knowing that everyone they've ever met unconditionally loves the Penn State football team, and that, quite frankly, the football team is bigger than them. Growing up with that mentality, it makes sense that they would keep quiet, fearing that coming forward would make them appear to be the troublemaker. My heart breaks for the victims, not for anyone involved in the football program. Even as this scandal began to break nationwide, it appeared that Paterno could not grasp the scope of Sandusky's alleged crimes; that having been immersed in a program as revered as Penn State football is, it is almost impossible to see anything else as being as important, no matter how sordid the details. Even when he announced his decision to retire early Wednesday afternoon, he appeared slightly aloof, saying that the Penn State board of trustees shouldn't spend time considering his job status. That, of course, is not his call. Paterno is named in the Sandusky grand jury report, and while I don't believe he committed a crime, the fact that he had knowledge of the scandal beforehand, no matter how little, ensures that his job status is not something he has the power to control.
It is truly sad that a man as revered as Joe Paterno had to lose his job over this scandal. But your heart shouldn't break for JoePa, or anyone else who loses their job at Penn State because of this scandal. It should break for the victims, and only the victims.
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