Let’s make it clear at the start, the real victims of the scandal at Penn State were the children involved. But the ripple effects from this psychological earthquake will go on to impact people in numbers into the millions. Probably millions of people loved Coach Joe Paterno and the Penn State athletic organization. Even Sandusky, at one time, was a revered figure.
Think what a tragedy this is for the people of the great state of Pennsylvania, and who knows how many beyond the state who attended or were associated with that outstanding university. How about all the parents who used Paterno and the Penn State team as models for their kids? How many kids have Penn State posters on their walls, and use symbolic imagery of the achievements of that football program in their own developing minds? This is powerful, important stuff that never gets mentioned. Today a guy wrote an online comment that he was throwing away all his Penn State memorabilia. The fallout from the Jerry Sandusky nightmare has only begun.
There’s a psychological taint on Penn State University that will have to be lifted, because an institution of such importance cannot be hobbled in that way for long. Today, with the investigation into the cover-up made public, a news article has a headline saying Coach Joe Paterno’s legacy has been “damaged beyond repair,” for apparently knowing and covering up for the rampaging pedophile that was his defensive coordinator. The stature of Paterno is demolished; the statue cannot be far behind. And think about the young people who protested and actually rioted on that campus when it was suggested that their football program be curtailed, or that their beloved Joe Pa was involved with anything unethical.
The scandal seems like a permanent darkness with no exit, but the Penn State community can rise above this, and they will. It will involve looking at the big picture. How the community moves forward is more important than what was done in secret by a small number of individuals. It will come down to a restatement of the ethics that are important, primarily that no one is above the law. Penn State can set an example for other organizations who face a situation like this in the future. Anyone who thinks this kind of thing can’t happen in their town is deluded.
Sports has been “lionized” for too long, and not just at Penn State. Time to reassess its place in the scheme of things. It’s great to think of the heroics and complexities of athletic events as a symbol of life. It’s a way of looking at the world in a smaller, more manageable way. The tribal mentality of sports fans is not such a great thing, and should never go beyond the level of joking. Then we have the question of the impact of sports gambling in America. Is nearly ubiquitous gambling a big part of what drives our sports mania?
Take the hard lessons, move on, and reject cynicism.