Penn State Scandal: Should the Culture of College Football Take Some Blame?

November 17, 2011

Culture, News, Politics, Sports

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno, former HC, Penn State

The college football world has been rocked to its very core amidst the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The scandal has already resulted in Penn State’s President Graham Spanier resigning, and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno unceremoniously being fired after 46 years as the Nittany Lions coach. The scandal has been the lead story on almost every major television broadcast. The Penn State student body is torn; part of the fan base is loyal to Joe Paterno, while others are supportive of the young victims of Sandusky. Every person from the mailman to former athletes have all had a comment on the situation.

The act by Sandusky was bad enough, but most have been more disgusted by the fact that it was covered up for more than ten years. Sandusky allegedly molested another victim after he was caught in 2002 by WR Coach Mike McQueary. The mere thought of that will make a normal person puke, but those are the facts. The overwhelming majority has blamed Penn State for the cover-up, but I am taking a different approach. I think Penn State is definitely culpable for their actions, but the culture of college football could really be to blame.

I think those that are reading might be thinking, “What exactly is Jeremiah Short saying?” The thought I am conveying is that the win-at-all-cost nature that comes with coaching at the college level can be suffocating. We have all seen the scandals that have ravaged college football:  The Miami booster scandal, Ohio State’s failure to report infractions, and most notably the Reggie Bush scandal that led to major sanctions against USC, including a two-year, post-season ban. This all seems minor compared to the Penn State ordeal, but are they really that different?  They all were cheating for the same reason: to win games.

One of my high school coaches once told me that if you’re not cheating then you’re not trying. This goes beyond a cornerback tapping the inside leg of a receiver, a running back putting oil on his jersey, or a wide receiver wearing stick’em on his hands or gloves. The college game takes it deeper, as arrests are covered up, grades are fixed, and players are getting paid under the table. One of the best illustrations I’ve ever seen regarding the pressures of college coaching was the movie “The Program”, starring James Caan as the embattled coach. The coach in the movie had to deal with an alcoholic superstar quarterback, a steroid-addicted Defensive End, and friction between his two star running backs.  Another movie dealing with recruiting scandals was “Johnny Be Good”, starring Anthony Michael Hall, who played the superstar quarterback who, while he already had plans to go to State with his girlfriend, entertained three corrupt colleges who wanted to give him handouts for his talent, almost corrupting his integrity in the process.  There are many examples of good coaches dealing with pressures from corrupt athletic programs, such as in the movie “Blue Chips”, starring Nick Nolte as a basketball coach with integrity, who cracked under pressure from the corrupt program and admitted to giving out money and handouts for a plethora of 5-star talent.

The crazy part is that all these things and more can really happen to a football coach during a college season. These college coaches, at the end of the day, are trying to win games. I don’t agree with what Paterno did (or did not do), but he was placed in a very tough position, where football is treated like a form of religion. Sandusky was his Defensive Coordinator for years and was also one of his best friends.  I think that fact gets underscored when people discuss this situation.  I’m not saying he would have reported it if it was some random coach, but I think the fact he was friends with Sandusky played a huge part in them covering it up. The other factor was the fact that Paterno was trying to win games, and I’m not naïve enough to think that they didn’t indeed play a part in the cover-up. He was competing with former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for the all-time wins record. Bowden cheated to keep up with Paterno, but naturally what he did wasn’t as heinous as Paterno’s actions.  Bowden had some victories stripped from him by the NCAA for his transgressions, and Paterno has the all-time wins record now because of that.

The pressure that college coaches like Bowden and Paterno are under is unimaginable. They have to deal with unforgiving fans, the media, demanding alumni, the administration, and immature football players that all have different needs. Once they deal with all of that, they still have to coach a football game. We can all talk about what they should do, but they are the ones sitting in the chair. There have been coaches that did it the right way, but there are far more that did not. If coaches do not win, they will get fired. You would rarely hear it said, “Man, he was a great guy that didn’t win.”  Instead, everyone would be saying, “This guy is inept”, “He’s in over his head”, or, “He shouldn’t be allowed on the sideline.”

Penn State was wrong, but the win-at-all-cost nature of college football really should take some of the weight of the blame.  Paterno isn’t the only coach that would have covered up sexual assault the way he did, and I feel confident in that statement.

Doesn’t anyone else think that the College Football Culture should shoulder some blame for this scandal?  I’d love to hear your feedback.


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4 Comments on “Penn State Scandal: Should the Culture of College Football Take Some Blame?”

  1. ddaydawgDDayDawg Says:

    If you were talking about yet another pay-for-play scandal that would be one thing, but the problems at Penn State go far, far beyond that. When we talk about paying players we are generally dealing with 17 and 18 year olds. These are people old enough to make their own choices, good or bad. But Penn State empowered a child rapist. And for what? What would have been the cost of airing this out when it first happened? And what did Penn State gain? Paterno didn’t win any more games because he covered this up.

    At most Penn State deferred some embarrassment and in order to do that they turned a child rapist loose on their own community and allowed him to stay on their campus. This is not your typical “sports out of control” story. These are grown men who allowed the rape of a 10 year old boy to go unpunished and allowed the rapist to continue molesting other children.

    Now, if Penn State doesn’t take the step of shutting down their football program, which we all know they won’t, then THAT is a good example of the problem of college football. The win at all costs mentality and the glorification of sports over education. A decent human being would see that Penn State has allowed football to gain far too much control over their school and in order to fix the problem they need to step away for a few years. But we know that won’t happen. There is too much money, and too many alumni that could care less that they too unwittingly played a part in keeping a child rapist active in their community.

    I don’t see this as an example of the glaring problems in college football. This is one school, one town and one alumni base that completely lost all grips on reality. And by the celebrations of the man who enabled the rapist to go on to destroy the lives of many more children it seems they have learned nothing. Penn State should shut down their football program for at least a while. They won’t, and that is their sickness. I think the outrage over this shows that this is not indicative of a bigger problem within the institution of college football.


  2. Jeremiah Short Says:

    Great Response. Looks like Syracuse just reported about a ball boy being molested. I’m afraid this stuff may come out more now that the Penn State thing has happen.


  3. Kevin Gregg Says:

    Better this all come out sooner than later!

    Luke 8:17 – Mark 4:22


  4. Bill Buckley Says:

    Good article, Jeremiah. I really appreciate your understanding of the amazing pressure coaches are under, especially on the D1 level. I personally think this is an old problem with a new face. That problem is that most men I know have accountability on the professional level (administrators, bosses, managers) but not on the personal level. I know that I am fully capable of cheating on my wife any day of the week. This is not a statement like we hear all the time–“Well, nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes.” No, I am saying that every human being is capable of what Coach Sandusky did, and worse. What the apostle Paul said in Romans is a resounding condemnation of the human heart (Romans 3). Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart (of human beings) is more deceitful than all else. It is desperately sick.” Therefore, every man (and woman) needs personal accountability in a serious way. By that I mean a circle of like-minded men who I have given permission to challenge me about my private life. I have 5 men (Mike, Joe, Bill, Matt, and Jeremy) who know that they can call me 24/7 and ask me “What are you doing right now?” “Who are you with?” “Have you done or said anything since we last talked that would offend your wife if she knew?” And other such questions. I tell you the truth, if these men had not been in my life over the last 20 years, I know I would have sunk to the deepest darkness regarding my sexuality. So, D1 football, as you have said so clearly, is a place for much craziness to hide. But if every coach on every team in America had the personal accountability I described above and the desire to be men and women of integrity the landscape of college athletics would change dramatically.


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