Outrage at Penn State By: Joshua Chamberlain Posted: July 19, 2012
There is a growing movement in the wake of the ongoing Jerry Sandusky scandal to eliminate the football program at Penn State. Look anywhere, and you hear these statements:
“A message must be sent.”
“The NCAA must act.”
“Everyone must know that this is unacceptable.”
“This is the only way to put an end to this saga.”
People are going to need to prepare themselves for disappointment.
The Jerry Sandusky case has affected the lives and stuck the emotions of nearly every fan of college football. Even those outside the realm of college football have been impacted and have taken sides on the issue. Nothing strikes a chord with the masses more than when adults take advantage of children. For all of the individualism in our me-first society, there is still something inside all of us telling us that children must be protected.
The furor is only amplified when the children are allowed to be taken advantage of because of what we perceive to be a culture of entitlement.
The Penn State football program had grown bigger than the sum of its parts, which in part led to a few very powerful people making a few very terrible decisions to protect it. While it is tempting to look at Penn State as outlier in this regard, however, the reality is that college football as a whole has grown larger than the sum of its parts.
Before we start talking about how that culture needs to be torn down and how “a message must be sent,” let’s remember one thing: We created this culture.
Let’s remember also that we love this culture. We love college football. We love the emotion that goes into it. We love how every game counts. We love the eternal hope that the constant roster turnover fosters. We love building coaches up when they bring in the big recruiting class, and we love tearing coaches down when they do not then produce. For these reasons, we do not mind how much those coaches get paid.
In terms of the scope of college football, we love the atmosphere. We love the size of the stadiums and we complain when more students don’t come. We love following recruiting in the dead of winter. We LOVE what college football has become.
Yet, sometimes we are also forced to confront what the culture we have built does to those who actually live in it. When the offender is a college kid acting entitled, we blame the culture, suspend the kid, and move on. When the offender is a coach, we blame the culture, fire the coach, sanction the school, and move on. None of the responses really change anything, however. We love the culture too much to really change it. Individuals are punished, but nothing really changes.
With Sandusky, however, we don’t really know what to do. We can’t even agree on whether the criminal justice system that punishes the criminals is enough. Many are looking for some sort of vigilante justice from the NCAA.
So now, the debate is how to approach a situation we could never fathom. Is this really a football issue? Well, yes and no. The football culture is such that people wanted to cover up Sandusky’s terrible acts. Still, the football team did not molest those boys. Thus, is punishing the football program really the answer? The people who committed the crimes are either fired, dead, or in jail. The folks who want to end Penn State’s football program are not saying they want to punish those who committed the crimes; they are saying they want to punish those who built the culture. In essence, they are saying they want to punish themselves.
So who are we really talking about when we say that “a message must be sent”? Why must the NCAA act? What must everyone know is unacceptable, and who really needs to be sent this message? We are talking about ourselves, and we are saying this because we know that we played a role in the aftermath of what Sandusky did.
The problem is that it will not work. We will continue to flock to the games on Saturdays this fall because college football is really great. We will continue to watch recruiting. We will continue to think that our coach is different, and that Penn State just got duped by an octogenarian con-man.
For all the talk about college football just being a game and not real life, our emotions will hinge on the outcome of games in a very real way because this type of entertainment and emotion, mixed with the lives of the players who play the game, is 100% real. Admitting this in no way diminishes the importance of what happened at Penn State. On the flip side, eliminating the football program at Penn State in no way makes what happened better and will in no way prevent it from happening again.
People are hoping that demanding the death penalty for Penn State football will somehow absolve them of their wrongdoings and will make up for the guilt they feel for building up a culture that allowed a man like Sandusky to do what he did for so long.