We should not applaud about the verdict against Jerry Sandusky, as those standing outside the courthouse did last night. The verdict means the accusations are true and that without a doubt lives have been destroyed. It is a time for sadness and reflection, not joy, even if you think that Sandusky got what he deserved. I, for one, don't think any punishment can be harsh enough for what he has done.
Even still, this is not a time for celebration but for reflection on what we value in college athletics.
We should not be surprised about what happened at Penn State any more than we should be surprised about any institutional cover-up. I am not referring to the grotesque acts of Jerry Sandusky; I am referring to those in the Penn State community who chose to look the other way when they could have stepped in to do something.
From Mike McQueary, to Joe Paterno, and all the way up to the AD and former university president, cowardice and greed trumped honor and justice. When material concerns outweigh abstract moral concerns, bad things happen.
Of course, our memories are short so by the time the next episode rolls around we will again act shocked as though nothing like this has happened before. To prevent scandals such as this—again, I only speak of institutional cover-up—we don't need more rules, regulations, or oversight. We need a complete restructuring of how we evaluate success. Each person must reorient their value system so that abstract concepts like justice supersede concrete results like winning.
In college athletics, corruption and cover-ups are standard fare. It was not too long ago that the sports world was rocked by a scandal at he University of Miami in which it was revealed that a sponsor of the football program had been supplying money and gifts to players. While it was going on there were rumors, but no investigation was undertaken by the university because not only were the players receiving money but so too was the university and football program.
The incident at Penn State is different, but it still involves a university trying to preserve its reputation, funding, and winning football program rather than the innocence of young boys who were taken advantage of in the worst way. Penn State place material concerns over moral concerns. Sandusky played a prominent role in helping the team win two national championships and earning the university the moniker Linebacker U. Those who knew of accusations about Sandusky's inappropriate interaction with young boys, and did not report what they knew to law enforcement, were more concerned with their careers and the success of the football program than justice.
Of course it would be wrong to think there is something unique about Penn State, or that athletics is unique. Every institution, and perhaps every person, is capable of hypocrisy and capable of excusing bad behavior, or living in denial, when we think doing otherwise might hurt us. But this does not mean it is right. Regardless of which team one cheers for on Saturdays, the bad behavior of those in leadership positions should not be tolerated—even if it is at your school.
Allegations should not be ignored, but instead investigated and taken seriously. And if allegations are proven true, support for that person should be withdrawn immediately. It is incumbent upon fans to make sure that those in leadership positions act morally. If we do not, and we could have, it is just as much a reflection on us as it is on them.
Mike McQueary, and all those at Penn State who looked the other way, found material success more important than upholding standards of morality. For this they are morally, if not criminally, liable.