Did the Culture of College Football Enable the Penn State Scandal?

Amid the nation's soul-searching over the alleged child sex abuses committed by Pennsylvania State University Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky, some have argued that the culture of college football at large state universities is a co-belligerent in the scandal.

The child sex abuse charges were known about at the highest levels within Penn State. The Athletic Director, University President Graham Spanier, and Head Coach Joe Paterno were aware of the allegations, yet no one contacted the police.

After the Board of Regents fired Spanier and Paterno Wednesday night, some students were rioting in the streets, suggesting that saving the football season was more important than the victims of child molestation.

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Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary told Paterno in 2002 that he had witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. Rather than reporting the incident to police, McQueary went to Paterno who then reported the incident to the Athletic Director.

“In this world of college football, Joe Paterno is bigger than the police. They live in an entirely different world than you or I,” USA Today sportswiter Christine Brennan said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.” “I believe that [McQueary] thought he was going above and beyond by going to Joe Paterno's house the day of, to tell the coach. I think that tells us all we need to know about how out-of-control college football programs are.”

Conservative columnist George Will agreed. “When you graft a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry anonymously onto higher education, you produce a bubble of entitlements and exemptions and eventually, simple moral derangement.”

Franco Harris, a Penn State alum and former NFL player, criticized Pennsylvania's Board of Regents for firing Paterno, arguing that Paterno is innocent in the matter. The Grand Jury investigation that led to the arrest of Sandusky did not file charges against Paterno, Harris noted on “Fox News Sunday.” “It is unfair how people were treating Joe with this issue because Joe is a highly moral person, great moral character,” Harris said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) sits on the Board of Regents and appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and “This Week” today to talk about the scandal and firing of Paterno.

“The Attorney General made a determination that [Paterno] had not at this point in time done anything of a criminal nature, but in my opinion, when you don't follow through, when you don't continue on to make sure that actions are taken, then I lose confidence in your ability to lead. That would be the case here.”

Student Body President T. J. Bard said, on “Fox News Sunday,” he did not know if the Board of Trustees made the right decision. “Time will only tell if the Trustees made the right decision or not.”

Bard also pointed out that while an estimated 3,000 students participated in the riots, somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 students participated in a “candlelight vigil to honor the victims and bring attention to child abuse.”

Presidential candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann had a strong reaction to the news of Sandusky on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

“This is so horrific – on the level of a parent, I think about my children, if that was my child, and I think my automatic reaction, even though I'm a small woman, I'd want to find that guy and beat him to a pulp.”

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Ross Douthat, a Catholic, likened the insular nature of college football to that of the Catholic Church and its sex-abuse scandals. He compared Paterno to Darío Castrillón Hoyos, a Catholic priest who had become a hero after standing up to drug traffickers in Colombia, but was later complicit in the Catholic Church's “culture of denial” over priests involved in child molestation.

“It was precisely because Castrillón had served his church heroically, I suspect, that he was so easily blinded to the reality of priestly sex abuse,” Douthat wrote.

Douthat believes that Paterno and Castrillón are both good men, but, “good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness – by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind.”

Just as Catholic priests “persuaded themselves that protecting their institution’s various good works mattered more than justice for the children they were supposed to shepherd and protect,” a “similar instinct” persuaded Paterno that “he had fulfilled his responsibility to the victimized child. He had so many important duties, after all, and so many people counting on him,” Douthat wrote.

Brennan believes that something good can come out of this scandal “if the outrage is so extreme, the university presidents, maybe 20 or 25, get together and say 'this has got to stop,' and they take back their universities from these run amok college programs and college sports that are causing so much trouble.”

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