College football is just a gamePublished 3:59pm Thursday, November 17, 2011
I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Penn State football.
Most of this admiration was created while watching Alabama and Penn State play in the 1970s and 1980s. Their teams always played tough and their fans seemed to be classy and respectful of their opponents.
Plus, there never was even a hint of impropriety on the part of the athletic program during these years. Comparing Penn State to similar schools in the SEC only highlighted the way their staff successfully handled the pressure to win. Unlike many southern schools where recruiting scandals and coaching controversies seem almost normal, Penn State won the right way – with honor and respect.
Last week, my perception of Penn State changed completely.
As most of you know, the Nittany Lions are currently mired in a horrible child molestation scandal that is rocking the university to its very core. Coach Joe Paterno, who led the football program for over 40 years, was fired along with several other high-ranking officials at the school.
Without going into great detail, it seems a former defensive coordinator molested children for over a decade and committed some of these heinous acts at Penn State’s football training complex. To make matters even worse, after discovering what was going on, several Penn State officials failed to report the crime and effectively covered it up for nearly eight years in order to protect the reputation of the program.
After all of this came to light last week, Penn State trustees met and rightfully fired Paterno for his part in this tragedy. Even though he didn’t commit any crimes, from a moral perspective he should have done more to stop what was going on. His lack of action brought shame to Happy Valley and most Penn State supporters are feeling horrible over the dark cloud that has befallen their university.
On the other hand, Some Penn State fans had a completely different reaction. Upon hearing of Paterno’s firing, many students rioted in the streets, turning over cars and smashing windows, demanding their beloved coach be allowed to remain until at least the end of the season.
Like most people, I found this response to be completely inappropriate and almost insane. How could anyone, no matter the love and devotion felt toward their school, riot in the streets when children were allowed to be harmed for years by that very same institution?
To me, this is an extreme example of what is fundamentally wrong with current attitudes about college football. In these acts we see fans violently putting the interests of a football team and its coach over and above victimized children, the very same attitude that led to the scandal in the first place. That’s nothing short of disgusting.
I’m sure most college football fans in our state feel the same way. However, we shouldn’t be too quick to point fingers at our northern counterparts. We have plenty of examples of stupid fans, coaches and administrators doing really stupid things, all in the name of their favorite school. In fact, it’s easy to see how many of us place too much importance on the outcome of a game or season.
Considering what’s happened at Penn State, it’s probably a good time to reflect on college football’s proper place in our lives. It’s a game to be enjoyed – nothing more, nothing less. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not very important.
It’s time some of us begin to realize this truth and start acting like responsible adults rather than spoiled children who want their team to win no matter the consequences. If we don’t, people might just get hurt – just look at Penn State.
Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.