Nov 10, 2011

No Defense

I have wanted to write about the Penn State scandal for several days now.  In truth, it has dominated my thoughts since this past weekend.  I heard mention of it on the news when the story first broke, so I read some of the coverage on it.  And, I wish I could un-read it.  It horrified me so much that I had trouble sleeping that night.  The next day, I sat my older kids down and explained what they needed to do if anyone approaches them in an inappropriate manner.  I told them, "Scream as loud as you can, punch them as hard as you can in their special place, run as fast as you can, and then tell me as soon as you can."  I didn't know what else to do.  What I wanted to do was to drive up to Happy Valley (ironic name, this week), find Coach Sandusky, and murder him.  That is precisely why I didn't write about this whole issue.  I didn't see any way that I could convey my thoughts without cursing, offending someone, or making me look like a violent rage-a-holic.  From the coverage I have been hearing and reading, my thoughts are not isolated.  It is amazing the number of sportswriters and sports talking heads who have expressed those exact same sentiments.

The fallout from the scandal is still being measured.  So far, the University President, Athletic Director, and a VP have exited - along with the firing of Joe Paterno.  Somehow, though, the original accuser still is coaching on the team - despite the fact that his reporting of the 2002 incident was so poor that several people hid behind the claim they "didn't fully understand the gravity of the accusation."  Personally, I think that the Board of Trustees needs to just get rid of the entire coaching staff and shutter the program for the rest of the year until the school can truly assess what in Hades is going on.

Now, apparently that last comment would get me a riot outside of my house.  There are so many horrifying and inexplicable things that have happened in the course of this scandal.  But one of the most mind scrambling is the fact that Penn State students rioted last night when news of Paterno's firing hit the airwaves.  Dannah Gresh, who is an amazing writer of purity resources, lives up near State College.  She has been tweeting about what was happening up there.  One of the things she posted (I think it was from someone else originally) was, "Too bad the rioting wasn't because a child was molested."  That's the crazy part.  AT LEAST eight boys were molested by this guy.  I say at least because the police are fielding tons of calls about other cases not related to the Grand Jury indictment.  [By the way, I refuse to say "allegedly" in all of this.  If it was one accuser, I may have some doubts.  Eight?  A three year Grand Jury investigation?  Reports that this guy was "walked in on" on FOUR separate occasions?  You don't get an "allegedly" for that.  This isn't some tv cop show where they drag five different people in and threaten to arrest them.  This was a freaking THREE YEAR Grand Jury investigation.]  The rioters were not up in arms that this kind of horror could happen right under the noses of the university.  They weren't furious that state and school resources went to this man - even after he had been accused and ADMITTED to making mistakes with young boys.  The angry hordes weren't buying pitchforks and torches because the school allowed this guy's nonprofit (which was supposed to help children) to operate on its campus running football camps.  They were mad because the people who made stupid, irresponsible, reckless decisions that led to the continued destruction of children's lives were fired for those decisions.

This is one of the things I absolutely hate about sports.  Sports fans are so passionate about their teams and players that they turn a blind eye whenever something that could tarnish that entity arises.  I can understand being shocked and not wanting to believe an accusation.  But to stubbornly defend a team, a school, an athlete in the face of mounting evidence is just asinine.  It isn't like there isn't a track record of sports personalities and groups making self-serving and immoral choices.  How many times do we need to see this play out before we start to believe that these players and teams are not deserving of that level of defense.  I remember when trouble first started to swirl around Tiger Woods.  People made all kind of statements and accusations about Tiger's wife.  Nearly twenty women later, those supporters know the truth.  But it was their first inclination to defend, defend, defend.

Two other things happened yesterday that highlighted this.  While Penn State was watching their world unravel, UCF was watching their athletic department for entirely different reasons.  UCF President John Hitt fired Athletic Director Keith Tribble and the Wide Receivers Coach.  Head Men's Basketball Coach, Donnie Jones, was suspended without pay for three games.  Several basketball players have been suspended, including Michael Jordan's sons Marcus and Jeff.  In the case of UCF, an NCAA investigation has shown that the athletic department had been getting into an improper relationship with a professional "runner" - who is a guy who guides players to specific teams and is paid for it (illegally).  Back in April, the reports began to surface.  UCF was dirty - that's how they were getting a shocking number of high quality players from Chicago.  UCF fans refused to believe it.  I myself, being a devout UCF fan and alum, wanted to doubt it.  But, there was something that didn't add up.  Partly, it was a sports entity being accused - which, in my opinion, always ends up being true.  Keith Tribble went so far in April as to say he had never met this guy, couldn't identify him.  Turns out Tribble was a big fat liar.  Now, UCF is big trouble.  They are trying to self discipline.  But it isn't going to work.  What has been the response of most UCF fans I've seen?  Shame - followed by questioning if this is going to keep us out of the Big East.

It should.  I think that the Big East should contact President Hitt and say, "I'm sorry, but that is not the kind of institution we want in our conference.  You have no control over your players or staff or coaches. Stay in the Conference USA, if they'll have you."  They SHOULD say that, but they won't.  This is the same conference that houses UConn basketball and Louisville basketball and Cincinnati sports and West Virginia (until last month).  The Big East is probably rushing even faster to get UCF now - since they proved they can cheat with the big boys.  Cheating is a prerequisite for admission.  [Truly pathetic part?  Eight of the teams in the Big East for basketball are Catholic universities - the kind of schools that shouldn't stomach cheating on any level.  And they are thinking of inviting BYU, the team who suspended their top players last year for having premarital relations with their girlfriends.  Run, BYU, run.]  Once again, the temptation for UCF fans was to defend their teams.  The temptation for the Big East is to defend their schools.

In the NFL, Ryan Clark - a safety for the Steelers - was fined $45,000 for a helmet to helmet hit on Sunday.  His response was touching and sensitive.  "If I'm going to get fined that much, I'm going to make sure I get my money's worth."  Amazing.  The NFL is trying (pathetically, but trying nonetheless) to cut down on concussions now that it is evident that brain damage from football are costing players years of their lives.  So they have ramped up the penalties for head hits.  Then you have Clark responding like that.  And, once again, Steelers fans will rush to the defense of their player.  They will complain about how the NFL singles out Pittsburgh players.  They will say the NFL is getting soft.  They will laugh at Clark's comment.  And they will get giddy the next time a Steelers player tries to paralyze someone.

We keep seeing this happen.  Football fans defend their sport and try to minimize those brain damage studies.  They defend their teams and players.  They defend behavior that is violent and uncalled for and irresponsible.  It is sad.  It is like a person loses their usual moral and ethical compass when it comes to winning a championship.  I guess that makes me a lousy sports fan.  I ditched the Dallas Cowboys around 2000 because I hated the way they did business.  I did the same thing with the Bucs a few years later.  And I did the same thing with the Yankees when the Mitchell Report hit and it showed everyone on the Yankees had a needle perpetually sticking out of their arm.  I won't ditch UCF because I went there and my tie there is different.  But I will have hard supporting the current coaching staffs until this gets fixed.

Sports isn't the only place this happens, obviously.  We see Republicans doing the same thing right now with Herman Cain.  These are the same people who wanted to crucify Bill Clinton and fire Rep Weiner over their misbehavior.  But their first response with Cain is to say it is a conspiracy.  Fans of Apple Computers refused to acknowledge anything negative they heard about Steve Jobs - even going so far as saying that what made him so great was his tendency to be a rude, abrasive, intolerant, short tempered tyrant.  We all have the desire to defend things we care about.  Unfortunately, more often than not lately, the things we want to defend don't deserve our defense.  They haven't earned such passion and loyalty.  So we are put in a position where we have to compromise our own morals and ethics to defend their lack of control.  "All programs cheat.  We just got caught.  We just are worse at hiding it."  Why should anyone who claims to have a moral guide and compass DEFEND unethical behavior?  You shouldn't.  Wrongdoing is wrong - no matter what.  Breaking the rules is wrong.  I don't care if you like the color of the jersey or the helmet logo the person is wearing.  It is wrong.  There is no circumstance that makes it okay to cheat ... or to sexual harass someone.  And there is absolutely nothing that makes it okay to sexually assault a child.

Which leads us back to Penn State.  Some people have asked what Paterno's crime was.  They say he legally had done everything he was supposed to, but he had not morally done everything.  The fact is that he ran that campus.  He ran that athletic department.  And he allowed Sandusky to remain there.  I don't even know how he could.  I doubt that I would be able and willing to have someone that I knew had hurt children around my workplace.  At the very least, Sandusky admitted to making a mistake in 1999.  Paterno then was told about another disturbing incident in 2002.  That's two.  At that point, even if he didn't understand everything, Paterno should have banished Sandusky.  He should have made trouble for his nonprofit and refused to let them operate on campus.  He should have ended the friendship.  The fact that he not only didn't do that, but allowed him on campus "all the time" and allowed him to use the athletic facilities.  He saw him in the company of young boys "from the nonprofit group" on trips.  That never triggered a question?  I believe that is is the job of all adults to defend and protect the innocent - the ones who can't defend themselves.  That includes kids.  You may think kids are annoying and hate their noise.  But you still should protect them.  That is ingrained in people.  We are built to care about others and to take care of small people.  To sacrifice children for the sake of a friendship is deplorable.  To ignore harm coming to children for the sake of a bowl bid is reprehensible.  And to be more upset about the decimation of a football team instead of the decimation of innocent lives is completely indefensible.

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