The Bottom of the Super Bowl

On the eve of the big game, debates about the sport and its future rage.

Football = Child Abuse

Disregard for societal constraints and college sports go hand and hand.

Penn State and its officialdom are reeling in the wake of a child abuse scandal, where a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, allegedly used his access to the locker room and football team to molest children he was "mentoring."  In 1992, a graduate student coach reported to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno that he had observed Sandusky having sexual contact with a preteen in the locker room. What happened then in terms of reporting is unclear, but so far Gary Schultz, Penn State's senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, have been charged with perjury and failure to report to what they knew of the allegations.

More significantly, Penn State's president, Graham Spanier, and Paterno, have, according to the NY Times, "come under withering criticism for a failure to act adequately after learning, at different points over the years, that Sandusky might have been abusing children. Newspapers have called for their resignations; prosecutors have suggested their inaction led to more children being harmed by Sandusky; and students and faculty at the university have expressed a mix of disgust and confusion, and a hope that much of what prosecutors have charged is not true."

Why, in heaven's name, would a university president allow this to happen under his watch? The answer is simple—major football programs run their universities, with coaches regularly receiving higher salaries than (sometime multipes of) the schools' CEOs. The presidents fear their athletic directors and football coaches, so that the leading revenue-generating sports teams (primarily football and basketball) rule the roost.

The result is a never-ending stream of scandals, as I pointed out in PT Blogs, divided generally into two types. The first is under-the-table inducements and payments to players, their families, and their advisors in order to encourage them to attend this or that major university (Southern Cal, Mississippi, Rice, Alabama) where a variety of infractions are periodically noted, sanctions applied by the NCAA, and business eventually proceeds as usual.

The second involves sexual misbehavior, violence, and criminal activiites by team players, which can result in sanctions against the players, but that rarely impact the teams or universities themselves, at least not more than momentarily—so that the universities may maintain their sports business franchises. Why? Because sports are a massive income and prestige-generating enterprise for select American universities. Alumni live and die for their sports teams (the fate of Alabama is a major Monday-morning topic for Joe Scaborough on his MCNBC news show, Morning Joe, as one of only many examples).

Which brings us to the title of my piece. Do I really mean college sports teams encourage sexual abuse of children? Not exactly. What I mean is, college sports are so dominant at American universities that even the most heinous sex crimes will be covered over rather than being allowed to disturb the giant university-sports complex. This is perhaps especially evident at Penn State, where 84-year-old Paterno has side-stepped all criticisms during his career, and proceeded to rack up the all-time leading victory total for a major college football coach. This has "established him," according to the Times, "as one of the nation’s most revered leaders."

This same man declined to report Sandusky directly to police and thus permitted him—as did other university officials—to continue to use the school facilities for "chicken-hawking" (a technical term for seducing children) for 15 years! Pennsylvania officals were disbelieving that their great university could allow such a state of affairs for so long. In the words of the Times, these officials felt that while Paterno may not have committed a crime, he "might well have failed a moral test for what to do when confronted with such a disturbing allegation involving a child not even in his teens. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the child involved."

Ahh, but the greater glory of Penn State sports was preserved!

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The Bottom of the Super Bowl