A Damaging Devotion

A terrible thing has been happening at Penn State for over ten years, and according to a Grand Jury affidavit, Joe Paterno has known about it since 2002. Jerry Sandusky was a former assistant coach, with free access to the Penn State football program’s facilities, charities, and level of prestige. He then utilized all of these things to gain access to, and allegedly assault and rape, boys as young as 10 years old. Joe Paterno knew about this, as did Mike McQueary, and Penn State’s administration and campus police. They all, according to sworn testimony, knew that Jerry Sandusky shouldn’t have been around young children.

Yet of all these adults, of all these seemingly decent human beings, not a single one would dare speak up or say something to make it stop. And now that they are being punished for their criminal inaction, both by loss of job and by potential criminal investigation, people are mad. They are not angered by the fact that these adults sat by and let children be sexually assaulted on their campus, in their facilities. Oh no. Penn State fans are mad that their football program has lost its famous coach, and that their team and school are receiving negative press. The rallies, protests, and riots on Penn State’s campus have not stemmed from an outrage over the heinous crimes committed on their campus, but over the fact that their football program is losing its star.

Mike McQueary did not serve in his capacity as a coach at Penn State’s most recent game due to concerns that his role as a whistle blower would endanger him among the fans, but no one seems to fault him for accepting a job with the same department that kept quiet about the assault he reported. Joe Paterno has enjoyed immense support from fans that seem not to mind that he kept such a horrible secret for so long. But why would he do that? To protect the program, the entity that seems to hold the most importance and generate the most sympathy among its fervent fans. Never mind the children who’ve been raped, what about the team? The season?

College sports are an important part of campus life at many schools across the country. We here at UK enjoy a very talented team with a coach who has quickly become a celebrity both on campus and around the state. In a very basic way, we are not too different from the students at Penn State. We love our team, we mourn when they lose and sometimes set fire to couches when they win, we are so overcome with joy. Our sports team unifies our campus; no one is a Democrat or Republican at a UK game, just citizens of the wonderful BBN. Yet what happened at Penn State has this luke-warm sports fan asking when does allegiance to your alma mater’s team stop and cultish devotion begin? There is no shame in loving your home team and wanting to win, but to what lengths are people willing to go to meet that goal?

Universities were not created for their sports teams, but as time progresses, certain schools seem to become centered on them. The students and fans of Penn State have shown that they value their team over seeking justice for Sandusky’s victims, and over the good name of their university. One sign at the student rally read, “We support Penn State. We support JoePa”. When does the university end and the team begin? Or have Division 1 schools become so synonymous with their sports teams that their students view them as one and the same? What would UK be without our basketball team? College sports are hugely influential, hugely powerful entities that have begun to overshadow their parent institutions.  Because of this, we now have to ask ourselves tough questions about the immense importance college sports have come to have, and whether or not decisions made in the best interest of the program are best for the universities that host them, or the communities and states those universities serve (UK Coal Lodge anyone?).

How much are fans willing to sacrifice at the altar of the NCAA, or on the quest for the holy grail of the winning season? We all want our school’s team to win, but at what price?