A tiny controversy in sports news has caught my interest and indignation. A little background first, and I’ll get to it...
I follow sports news a lot. I got interested in this field after the San Francisco earthquake, which disrupted major sports to a remarkable degree. My local radio sports station, WFAN, covered sports as a business that year, showing how the disruptions to damaged stadium schedules created spellbinding ripple effects. Sports IS a business, and it is both fascinating and frustrating to follow it that way.
I was listening to WFAN when the Penn State scandal erupted. In case you’ve missed it: what has always appeared to be one of the cleanest major sports programs, one that wins games and sees that most of its athletes graduate, also harbored and abetted, for many years, a beloved assistant coach who cultivated abusive relationships with young boys. He has been charged with a number of such crimes, and it is very clear that people in charge of Penn State sports knew about that person’s abusive activities in 1998 and again in 2002. But they did not report him to the police, and, as a result, that man is likely to have damaged more young lives. As late as 2009, he was allowed to run a summer sports camp on Penn State campus that reached out to the very kinds of children he had, according to the current charges, already abused.
The full story has not come out yet, but it appears that people at Penn State decided that it was preferable for their sports programs to turn a blind eye. Which means that the great success of their major sports programs was built on the damaged bodies of abused young boys.
Now here’s the silly controversy: Joe Paterno, an old man and one of the greatest football coaches of all time, is caught in the web of this awful story, because he heard the worst allegations in 2002, and never tried to ensure that those allegations would be passed on to the police. He delivered the eyewitness charges to others in the sports department and did not act when they decided to do nothing. So the question is: should Paterno resign at once, or should he be allowed, as he wishes, to be the official coach for a few more football games?
I can not believe that anyone is seriously discussing how many more Penn State games Paterno should be allowed to coach! What games? The entire sports program is flawed. Poor judgment about the importance of this program is what allowed that other person to go on abusing additional children. College presidents have contemplated scandals in their sports programs before, and they have known what to do: Shut Them Down!
The only question is whether Penn State should cancel its entire major sports programs – for the next five or ten years – before or after this Saturday’s game. Once the entire program is gone, there will be nothing for Paterno to wish to coach.