Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Pennsylvania is reeling under the daily waves of allegations, reports and aftershocks of a decades-long child molestation cover up at Penn State University. Check that: the nation is preoccupied with the news of every parent’s nightmare. Listening to sports radio, I’ve been impressed with the caliber of comments from regular Joe’s who have no patience for the horror of the acts or the cover up by officials. I’m also reminded of the value of conversation in dealing with major crises, the crazy history of riots in our country and the intolerance we have as a common voice for inexcusable acts against the weakest members of our society.
Penn State has, until this month, enjoyed over a century as King of the Hill in terms of well known and well attended institutions of higher learning. The main campus in State College, PA is a leafy, rolling landscape populated by the freshness of youth and decades of academic professionalism. Penn State also enjoys a sort of BMOC reputation for its football program; there is, in most of Pennsylvania, the “cult of Penn State,” which prides itself on winning seasons, NFL players and the winningest coach in college ball.
When we heard the news that vaunted Penn State, and Saint Joe Paterno (aka JoePa) had a disturbing skeleton in its closet that spanned years and subjected 10 year old boys to unspeakable crimes, the nation gasped, the echoes of which are still being heard. As we struggle to understand how something like this could have happened, how grown men could act with such abhorrence, we watch the cult crumble. The Ohio State scandal regarding tattoos for memorabilia seems positively quaint when parked next to the grim scene in Happy Valley. Oregon Ducks playing fast and loose with payments to a shady “scout?” Small potatoes.
Is anyone surprised anymore? I want to say, “No. Nothing surprises me.” The cult of PSU is under the umbrella of the cult of college sports, specifically college football, a huge money maker for institutions. Players seem like nothing more than prostitutes putting out for the pimps in power, who sit in their proverbial ivory towers counting the cash pouring in.
I can almost understand taking money from boosters, or accepting dinners from fans. No one gets hurt, student-athletes live on college incomes just like other students. It’s almost de riguer for marquee athletes to be given extras their bench-warming buddies aren’t afforded. At the very most, it’s against the rules.
As the shock recedes, we recover our reason. We understand that those we revered are just like anyone; complicated, insecure, careless, selfish, thoughtless. Our heroes are not, in fact, perfect. We must reconcile what we expected from these public personas with what they delivered in private, and find disappointment.
I wonder if we are in part to blame. Football fans demand good games, strong schedules, high winning percentages. Gamblers expect to cover the spread. Entire weekends are devoted to celebrating a group of young men clashing on the field…for what? Bragging rights. Nothing more. Nothing less. We put them on that pedestal. Are we surprised when it crumbles under the weight of our impossible demands?
But this? This is beyond disgusting. More than heart wrenching. Harder than a kick in the gut. We have questions that demand answers. How could this happen? How could THEY let this happen? And what now? How do we show Penn State pride when we are sickened? How do we recover? How do we help the children?
Sports radio is usually an entertaining arm of the entertainment megaplex that is American sport. Undereducated homers are offered the opportunity to call in and with horrible grammar and syntax explain why their “team’s gonna kick your team’s ass.” But in the last two weeks, sports radio has been like one giant shrink’s sofa, where we can carry the weight of our hurt for these children and feel connected to others in our outrage. I have heard very few people coming to the defense of these men and their acts of abuse or acts of omission.
I am heartened; if we can’t agree on the BCS or the relative merits of the SEC, then at least we can agree that every single act of molestation that happened on that campus was wrong. And furthermore, that those in charge need to be held responsible, at the cost of their jobs, and for some of them, their freedom.
The only voice of dissent came from the students, in a grotesque caricature of sports at their worst. The students who rioted in State College reveal further the darkness in the cult of sport. They showed, in their violence, a refusal to demand justice, a lack of understanding, a pleasure seeking impulse that is difficult to understand. Rioting over racial or political injustice? Fine. Rioting to show support for a coach, in light of clear-as-day evidence? The mother in me shakes my head: They ought to be ashamed of themselves. Their behavior was inexcusable.
Perhaps their role models, the ones they rioted to support, have taught them something; they are the truly inexcusable. In the end, as time passes, the public can focus our outrage onto the next football scandal. Make no mistake: there will be another football scandal. But as we do, we leave behind these children who were raped and abused at the hands of men in power. Young, trusting boys told the truth and for their troubles received the cold shoulder of feigned ignorance. We can shake our fists at the next trouble, whereas these children, some now young adults, live with the agony of their victimization.