By: Roger I. Abrams
author of Sports Justice
The scandal that continues to unfold at Penn State University has transfixed the nation. The horrific allegations of sexual abuse by football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky have sickened an American public used to glorifying both its athletes and their coaches. The seeming indifference of Coach Paterno and university administrators to these repellent facts has already taken its toll, and there is more to come.
The involvement of Joe Paterno, the nation’s greatest college football coach, in this catastrophic series of events has made the story one that involves sports, but is it really a sports story? Or is it rather just an issue involving a horrendous crime on campus?
Simply because an athlete is alleged to be involved in criminal conduct does not mean it is a sports story, even though it may find its way to the sports section of the newspaper and be featured on ESPN. O.J. Simpson, for example, was alleged to have committed an awful crime, but it had nothing to do with his prowess on the football field. By comparison, the use of performance enhancing drugs by active baseball players in violation of state law is a sports story because of its impact of the game they play.
Some of Sandusky’s alleged crimes are said to have taken place in a Penn State facility, but they were unrelated to his then current or previous status as a football coach. Although ESPN has covered the allegations and their aftermath wall-to-wall, they have spread into headline news as important events for the non-sports fan. It is possible, however, that Paterno’s response to the information he received about Sandusky may have been the product of his well-developed arrogance as a premier football coach. That was evident the other night when, in an attempt to preempt any action by the University’s Board of Trustees, JoePa announced he would retire at the end of the season. At last, the Board exercised its responsibilities and dismissed him immediately along with the University president.
There are no good outcomes to the Penn State scandal. It will not lead to the reform of big-time college football. It has resulted in the forced retirement of an old man who stayed in the game way too long. It will forever tarnish the reputation of a great university. And the suffering of these young victims of these dastardly crimes will not be assuaged by any legal remedies that may follow.