Joe Paterno, Penn State Football and the Orwellian Aspect of College Sports

Mike StangerCorrespondent INovember 11, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 10: On College Avenue, a passerby walks by a crying Penn State Nittany Lion window painting, November 10, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno was fired during the Penn State Board of Trustees Press Conference yesterday in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

-George Orwell, Animal Farm

Nowhere is this quote more appropriate than with regards to universities and their athletic departments.

The irony, of course, is that college campuses are supposed to be places of enlightenment, tolerance and equality. However, anyone that has spent time at an institution of higher learning, particularly one with a strong football program, knows this is not the case.

I attended Penn State in the '90s and always found the amount of "JoePa" paraphernalia littered throughout campus amusing.  I remember going to see my academic advisor and being greeted by a cardboard replica of Paterno.  

It was quite obvious who the most important man on campus was.  It wasn't the university president or a well-published professor.  No, it was the football coach.

And this isn't just isolated to Penn State.  Throughout the country, university presidents hold significantly less sway than a successful football coach with a million-dollar contract and powerful boosters as allies.

Engineering departments may lack funding.  The library could be in disrepair.  Yet, the football team will get new uniforms. That's all one needs to know about the power and influence of collegiate athletics. 

The reality is that a bright young student that excels in science may receive a $5,000 annual academic scholarship, yet the third-string punter gets a full-ride based on his hang time.

It is no wonder that many involved in college athletics have a "more equal than others" attitude.

But, none of this takes place in a vacuum.  These individuals derive their sense of entitlement from somewhere.

That, my fellow sports fans, is where we come in. To quote Walt Kelly, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

I knew people who applied to Penn State strictly on the reputation of the football team.  It didn't matter to them about the academic quality of the institution, just whether or not Wally Richardson would successfully replace Kerry Collins.

Indeed, we are the ones that exalt these men to demigod status.  Just look at the student riots taking place at Penn State.  They're not incensed by the euro crisis, global poverty or even higher tuition rates.  Nope, it's all over the firing of a football coach.

Don't get me wrong.  All of the people involved in the Penn State scandal carry the full brunt of the blame. They are not victims here in is this sordid tale.

However, we as sports fans must plead guilty to being minor accomplices.  We are the ones that care more about the ranking of the football team than the medical school.  We are the ones that can name that last 10 starting quarterbacks at our alma mater, yet can't name one recent Rhodes Scholar. 

Yes, my friends, it is time for all of us to take good, long look inside the manor of academia and see how the athletic department enjoys a grand feast.

It is time for us to realize that, thanks in part to us, all departments of a university are equal, but some departments are more equal than others.