Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back Up Ten And Punt: When Things Get Hairy in the Locker Room

I guess having lived for decades with a high school sports coach and having a son who is a football coach has finally rubbed off on me. If you don't believe me, then you'll probably have trouble believing that one of my thrills at being in Chicago recently was seeing Soldier's Field--the venue where the Chicago Bears play. I have heard about, been party to, and had my entire weekend taken over by sports, namely football. In the days when thee was only a single 13" TV in our living room, the kids and I got lots of other stuff done. Dad, of course, had taken over the TV for the entire weekend.

Most recently I have been shamed and saddened by the happenings at Penn State--the hurt that was revealed after being covered up for 13 years and the fall-out that is affecting the university now. I am most ashamed when I hear commentators speaking about the great damage done that day for Penn State. Oh Hello!! The hurt happened years ago and it wasn't just to the university. The loss of a beloved coach has to feel harsh and is difficult for lots of people the consider that such an action to fire Joe Paterno and the college president has to make lots and lots of students and alumni very upset. I know this is a hot button issue and I'll probably get scalded for my writing about it, but I am upset about lots of stuff pertaining to this situation.

First, I realize that Mr Paterno reported the illegal activity to the Athletic Director in the late 90's, but my understanding is that at the time Pennsyvania had a mandatory reporting law. That means that the coach had an obligation to report the information received to the law enforcement officials. That's not what happened. And perhaps the greatest sadness about this entire affair, apart from the damage done to the victims, is that Joe Paterno decided to protect his legend instead of making sure that a staff member was prevented from doing any harm to more youngsters. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but when people begin to believe their publicity and allow their public persona to be what they protect instead of seeking justice for those young boys, then there is something seriously wrong. I also know that college football is a force with which to be contended in our society and that influence is supported by millions of dollars worth of TV exposure, the whole NFL scouting machine, and the flow of those media dollars into the coffers of university and college athletic programs. And as beloved as Coach Paterno may be to the Penn State students and alumni, he became a part of the cover-up as soon as he opted out of his mandated reporting responsibilities.

This situation, like many others of the same kind, are full of wounding and scalding sadness--not only for the victims, but for lots of friendships and relationships that get caught up in and ground to powder by the the inevitable fall-out that will happen sooner or later. For those victims, it is justice long delayed. For the coaching staff and college administration it is a powerful wake-up call to honesty and transparency. Strangely enough, I am impelled to send prayers to everyone that will be ultimately touched by this tragedy. No matter how grand the football aura may be, no matter how legendary the coach, the sanctity of and respect for the human person of any age, much less a child, can never take second place.

No comments: