Penn State Football Scandal: Joe Paterno and the Costs of Worship in Sports

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Penn State Football Scandal: Joe Paterno and the Costs of Worship in Sports
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

With today's release of the Freeh Report, the public is now able to read about the inner workings of the Penn State institution that enabled and covered up a systematic abuse of children over a 15-year span by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. 

Several columnists and reporters (Jeff Schultz, Jen Floyd Engel, George Diaz and Michael Ventry for starters) have argued for Penn State to receive the death penalty as a means of punishment for the scandal.

Whether or not the NCAA does comply with such a request remains unforeseen at this time. 

Another issue this scandal raises is this: Will the perception of college football and sports in general change?

Before I continue further, I want readers to know that the perception of college football is a minuscule compared to the more serious issues this case has focused on, such as sexual abuse and university corruption.

We should all be focusing on the victims of this scandal, the children who had their trust and bodies violated by an adult, someone who was given power and respect, abusing both to the fullest extent.

I lack the words and expertise to address the issue of sexual abuse, but what I can offer is the deepest condolences for those who were abused.

In the media's rush to cover the administrators and coaches involved, there has not been enough focus on the victims and how their lives have been inextricably changed.

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

With that being said, I want to confront the issue of sports and the religious-like worship they can inspire.

If the legacy of Joe Paterno has taught sports fans anything, it's that the good gets overshadowed by the bad. 

To quote Marcus Antonius from Julius Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them/the good is oft interred with their bones/so let it be with Caesar."

Paterno was Happy Valley's defacto leader and emperor, but now he is one of the villains who chose silence over prevention.

As Bleacher Report's Joe Boylan has pointed out, Paterno's history of philanthropy and regard for academics over athletics known as "the Grand Experiment" is now being questioned.

How can we honor someone who respected knowledge and research but did not go beyond his legally appropriate (though morally questionable) actions?

To his ardent fans and supporters, Paterno elevated the reputation of Penn State. His eventual termination as coach, followed by his illness and death, has certainly made this scandal all the more more polemical and personal.

We can't separate Joe Paterno, the coach, from Joe Paterno, the man.

We can't say he was a living legend in sports without acknowledging the fact he made a legendary mistake.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sports are not always black and white.

Just because he was a great coach does not change the fact that he and Penn State administrators bungled this situation since 1998, when they had inklings of Sandusky's illicit behavior.

The fall from fame to disgrace is sometimes not that hard.

In the 1980s, there was SMU's flagrant and rampant violations of NCAA laws, which led to the death penalty being administered, a punishment from which the program has still not fully recovered. SMU boosters and school administrators wanted the best football team in the land, and it paid the price in trying to achieve that goal.

In regards to Penn State, reputation is nothing when compared to the abuse of an innocent person, plain and simple.

We can even look beyond college football and see that sports are not always pure and wholesome.

Whether it was the Balco steroid scandal that haunted Major League Baseball, blood-boosting and doping in track and field and other endurance sports or point shaving in college sports, there is always going to be a black cloud hanging over sports.

Penn State officials lobbied to protect the name of their institution and the reputation of the football program. In the end, the entire thing came unraveled.

David Paul Morris/Getty Images

As long as people and money are involved, there will always be a darker side to sports.

One potential (and hopeful) side effect of this case will be that every sports team will now hold the reins tightly, swiftly punishing any form of questionable behavior.

College football and sports lost a bit of their luster, whether we realize it or not.

It is a singularly defining moment in sports history because we have realized that behind the mask of any hero lurks a potential villain; Sandusky's name will forever be associated with heinous and reprehensible crimes, and his associates will share some of the blame. 

The fallout from this case will ensure that Happy Valley won't ever be the same again.

This is a black eye for every organization involved, and it will be a reminder that just because someone is admired and revered does not mean they are perfect. 

Paterno inspired thousands of players and people but he was just a man; people have faults, but we often ignore them.

The Sandusky case is a reminder that ignorance comes at a cost and everyone pays.

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