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In October 2010, the New York Times published Michael Sokolove's essay "Should You Watch Football?" At the time, queasy fans had just watched a weekend of vicious collisions in both the pro and college game. Philadelphia Eagle receiver DeSean Jackson was lucky to escape with a severe concussion on a brutal hit that was nonetheless ruled legal just a day after Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered an injury on a routine play that left him paralyzed from the neck down. (He is now said to be "overcoming the odds" in recovery.)
In our College Football Report at the time, we voiced our anxiety as to our moral obligation, as football fans, "to stop watching, to stop buying merchandise and to demand that the officials . . . make changes to the game." Our focus was the safety of the players and, in retrospect, appealed to the wrong higher authority.
Though our unease about the game has never been limited to the damage it inflicts on the field, it is now clear that what happens off the field poses far greater dangers to everyone involved in the college game. And seeing how the game is played within the confines of our campuses of higher education, it is mind-boggling that things have gotten this bad.
A number of issues have troubled college football in the past year; almost all involving money. A point-shaving scandal, the first since Toledo in 2005, surfaced in Hawaii in late November. (As it happens, it's a miracle Hawaii ever covered the spread this season. Even so, the Warriors posted a 6-7 record against the number. ("Here's to our green and white" indeed!) Minority hiring in college sports remains flat at best (or has marginally improved, depending how you look at it). Conferences continue to both shrink and balloon in size in a bewildering way that is confusing to fans and damaging to brands. Ongoing uncertainty about the BCS clouds the future of the bowl system and the way a national champion is determined. And, the game drowning in revenue, calls ring out again for a system that would pay rather than exploit those who actually play the game.
And this was pre-Sandusky. It cannot be stressed enough that, prior to being charged with committing monstrous crimes against children over an extended period of time, Sandusky was a lauded member of the Penn State coaching staff and a noted philanthropist in the local community.
What has been made clear by the grand jury testimony and other emerging facts, though, is that how the public image of Sandusky differed from that held by those whose private view of the man led to such things as (unenforceable) bans from the Penn State showers and limited activity around children.
By now, most people reading this know that, on November 5, police arrested Sandusky, former player and coach (1969-1999) for the Penn State Nittany Lions, on 40 criminal counts of sexually abusing minors, many (if not all) from his own charity for at-risk youth. It's instructive, however, to briefly remember the sequence of actions that have followed. Two days after Sandusky's arrest, and under pressure from state attorney general Linda Kelly, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president of business and finance (retired in 1999 but still acting on an interim basis since) Gary Schultz surrendered on charges of perjury and failure to report the allegations. They also stepped down from their jobs, with Curley going on administrative leave while Schultz retired.
Two days after that, the Penn State Board of Trustees voted to fire head coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier. Outraged students rioted - and it wasn't because they were mad about losing Spanier.
Later that week, as Penn State prepared for the final game of the season at home against Nebraska, assistant coach Mike McQueary was advised not to attend the game after receiving death threats due to his grand jury testimony against Sandusky, and was subsequently placed on administrative leave. He shouldn't have testified - under oath - that he had witnessed a child being raped?
This week, Sandusky was arrested again on 12 new counts of child sex abuse involving two more alleged victims - and was released on $250,000 bail after spending less than 24 hours in lock-up. If only the thousands of prisoners in Cook County Jail awaiting trial on, oh, say possession of pot, could be so lucky.
The original grand jury testimony against Sandusky - if even partially true - exposes him as a serial rapist preying on young boys from at least 1998 to 2002. We hope never to read a story more sickening than those 23 pages. Penn State administrators could have intervened numerous times.
According to the testimony, University Police investigated a 1998 incident in which Sandusky allegedly showered with and groped an 11-year-old boy. University Police produced a lengthy report resulting from the investigation. Despite being aware of the incident, Schultz "expressed surprise upon learning" about the report. Among Schultz's duties: oversight of the University Police.
As for Spanier, he denied any knowledge of the 1998 incident and on November 5 issued a statement giving his "unconditional support" to Schultz and Curley and asserting his "complete confidence" in the "honest, integrity and compassion" of both.
In 2002, four years after the initial report, McQueary says he saw Sandusky subjecting a naked boy to anal sex in the team shower. McQueary went to Paterno the following day; Paterno turned to Curley the day after that and a short time later the assistant met with Curley and, yes, Schultz. No one did anything. No one called local law enforcement. No one called the university police. No one did anything, that is, other than bar Sandusky from bringing children into the Penn State facility, a ban Curley admits "was unenforceable."
"Nor was there any attempt to investigate, to identify [the victim] or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct, except as related to preventing its reoccurrence on University property," the grand jury found. From the university's perspective, Sandusky was free to assault young boys provided he didn't do so on school property.
All of this and more has been discussed elsewhere. The moral outrage, the moral obligations, all of it. McQueary has attracted as much or more attention than his superiors. We understand why, and rightly so, but we are hard-pressed to expect more than the minimum from a 20-something student when his boss and every other superior - all the way to the top - did nothing. Who are we to hold accountable? Who is to blame?
Sadly, it's not just the likes of Curley, Schultz, Paterno and Spanier. It's us fans, too.
We tailgate. We cheer from the stands, as do all 106,572 fans for every home game in Beaver Stadium. We watch our team on television, show up in droves when they make a bowl (the 2010 Capital One Bowl, featuring Penn State against LSU on New Year's Day, drew 63,025 fans). We buy the t-shirts.
By doing so, we create a culture of complicity. We want wins, not moral quandaries. We want banners, not messy investigations. We are all guilty. Maybe even just for watching.
1. From Thomas Chambers:
The fans and the community are what make it possible for these things to happen. No hesitation to play that Nebraska game and no hesitation to televise it.
For the record, I had pretty much stopped watching college sports on television before all of this. Now, I actively avoid it. I feel like if I do watch, I'm an accomplice of the system and its crimes.
The Reader's column about the volleyball player at Nebraska demonstrates just how insidious the perversity is.
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