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[culture] The Ones Who Walk Away From Penn State - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-07-16 05:54
Subject: [culture] The Ones Who Walk Away From Penn State
Security: Public
Tags:culture, sports
I don't comment on sports much on this blog, with the exception of occasional posts about [info]the_child's team events and athletic accomplishments. I'm just not much about sports. My personal universe includes walking, hiking and (sometimes) biking. I am so not a sports fan that if the entire apparatus of professional sports in the United States vanished overnight, I wouldn't even notice until NPR ran an informative investigative piece on the subject a few weeks later.

Part of this is because of the way I grew up. I spent the vast majority of my childhood overseas in the era prior to VCRs or consumer satellite television, so there were no broadcast sports in the house. My parents aren't sports fans at either the college or pro level. Even the high school I went to was about as unfocused on sports as it's possible for an American high school to be.

My first real encounter with serious sports fans was when I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin. Hook 'em, Horns. Watching Longhorn fannery, and more specifically, Aggie fannery, rise nearly to the level of mental illness in some cases, pretty much confirmed my lack of interest in that culture.

On top of this, I experienced a childhood of always being the slowest kid in P.E. class, the most inept at ball sports, the last picked for every team or exercise (and often the subject of bitter arguments about who had to be stuck with me), all of this in the era when the gym teacher coaching style was to pick one kid to goat hard in order to motivate the rest. "You don't want to be like Lake, do you!?" shouted with a sneer were words I heard from adult authority figures for many years of my life.

Likewise, my first experience of the concept of privilege in the social justice sense of the term was through athletic privilege. As early as about fifth grade, the bad kids — bullies, petty thieves, etc. — who happened to be good at sports were excused a great deal of terrible behavior that would have landed most kids in a lot of trouble. By the time of my high school years, this favoritism was blatant and explicit. For example, you could be thrown out of my prep school for drinking, unless you happened to be a sports star whose contributions to the team drew alumni interest and donations.

All of which is to say, my attitude toward college and pro sports hovers somewhere between blank indifference and resentful contempt. Which I recognize is specific to my life experience and personal quirks, so I don't usually feel a need to comment on sports in public. Not for me to piss on other people's harmless passions. With the exceptions of dodgy stadium deals and some unfortunate educational funding priorities, sports fans don't really have a negative or destructive influence on public life. (Unlike, say, Evangelical Christians whose misplaced obsessions and passions frequently poison the well for everyone.)

Except sometimes sports does become destructive. Joe Paterno. Jerry Sandusky. Penn State. The Freeh Report. Even I, the resolute non sports fan, am aware of what's been going on in State College, PA.

And I just don't understand it.

How can devotion to a team, to a university, be so powerful that child rape can be excused and covered up and enabled to preserve that team's fortunes and good name? Not just one incident of child rape once, but a pattern of behavior known to the principals for well over a decade?

What the fuck is wrong with people?

This business is like everything I've ever despised about the culture of sports in America distilled into one evil package.

Why aren't Curley, Spanier and Schultz registered sex offenders rotting in prison? Why is there a single statue or plaque to Joe Paterno still left standing? Why does Penn State even still have a football program? This isn't the case of a child molester who happens to be tangentially associated with a football program. This is a case of an entire sporting dynasty resting explicitly on a knowing long-term coverup of child rape. To preserve Penn State's good name, and Joe Paterno's place in history.

I don't give a damn how many games he won. What a nice man he was. How many athletes he graduated. When he made the decision to protect Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno crossed an unforgivable line. When the officials of Penn State made the decision to protect Jerry Sandusky, they crossed an unforgivable line.

Will anyone walk away from Penn State over this?

I seriously doubt it. The culture of entitlement and privilege around big time sports in America is too powerful. Penn State's need for alumni donations keyed to its football program is too great. What's a few kids getting messed around back in the day compared to the significance of a Big Ten football program?

My question to all you Penn State supporters with ready excuses for Paterno and the school, with easy words about how it's not the program's fault and you shouldn't punish the players or the institution by shutting things down, is this: How would you feel about the coverup if you were one of Jerry Sandusky's victims? How would you feel about Penn State if your child had been abused by Sandusky under the smiling protection of Joe Paterno?

There couldn't be a sports story with a more clear-cut moral than this. And I'm afraid it will have no effect at all.

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ericjamesstone
User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2012-07-16 13:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As I mostly grew up outside the United States, I didn't become an American football fan until my last couple of years of high school. But then I became a big fan. My team is BYU, of course, but I came to respect many of the college football teams with long traditions, and to respect some of the coaching legends. So I had a lot of respect for Penn State and Joe Paterno.

After this scandal started coming out, when it appeared that Paterno had not really known anything, I felt a bit sorry that Paterno's legacy would be tarnished by the scandal.

Now that it appears he knew and participated in a coverup, I no longer have any sympathy for him. I hope Penn State's football program gets the "death penalty," as a warning to every school out there that covering up abuse like this in order to protect the team and coach from scandal just isn't worth it.
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Rafe
User: etcet
Date: 2012-07-16 13:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
How can devotion to a team, to a university, be so powerful that child rape can be excused and covered up and enabled to preserve that team's fortunes and good name? Not just one incident of child rape once, but a pattern of behavior known to the principals for well over a decade?

What the fuck is wrong with people?

This business is like everything I've ever despised about the culture of sports in America distilled into one evil package.


Sports is the religion for people who need to see their deity in action. Fandom is faith, cheering is prayer, and victory is salvation.

Suddenly, it makes a lot of sense, what you're seeing, yes? Replace "Penn State" with "the Catholic Church" and "Joe Paterno" with "The Pope," and... we've seen this all before, just with a crucifix instead of a nittany lion.

(I say this as both an adamant atheist, a lifelong athlete (soccer) and an occasionally-passionate fan (hockey and american football); as a small, scrawny kid, I was also a back-of-the-line pick in school).
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Jim Hetley: Powers
User: jhetley
Date: 2012-07-16 13:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Powers
Yeah, football serves the same function as religion in some people's lives. A lot of the Faithful have chosen to stay in Omelas. They will tell you that the stories are lies . . .
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Larry Sanderson: Miss Richfield 1981
User: lsanderson
Date: 2012-07-16 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: eh
Keyword:Miss Richfield 1981
Wot's a few poor kids get taken out and shown a good time for the good o' the team? As long as they don't muck up the gears...

It's the same philosophy as the "drinking's OK" and the occasional "rape" charge that evaporates for the football hero, only here it's just poor kids taking it for the team.

Sex, from the cheerleaders to the jocks, is part of the marketing force that keeps the money machine running. Even the best gang aft a-gley.

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The Green Knight: WTF?
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-07-16 14:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:WTF?
I cannot imagine supporting anyone or anything enough to justify covering up child abuse. And that's not entirely an unselfish thought, because someone who abuses children is equally likely to abuse my (hypothetical) children, so ensuring that a climate is created in which child abuse is absolutely utterly NOT acceptable is a very sensible thing.

Having placed your trust in the wrong person hurts, but covering up the crime doesn't make it unhappen, and the hurt of the victims needs to be placed way above the hurt of bystanders.
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Tom
User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-07-16 15:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sport is a modern substitute for tribal military activity. It provides a way for communities to bond together. Newcomers are readily accepted by adopting the "colors" of the local gang team. A coach like Paterno is revered for his generalship. When someone in the line of authority does wrong, everyone around is conflicted between loyalty to the tribe and respect for authority on one side, and their moral judgment on the other. Not all tribal cultures are authoritarian but probably most of them are. The conflict between loyalty and morality can be very difficult for people that have been in the tribe for a long time and where it is a big part of their identity.
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Kerry aka Trouble
User: controuble
Date: 2012-07-16 16:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All of which is to say, my attitude toward college and pro sports hovers somewhere between blank indifference and resentful contempt. Which I recognize is specific to my life experience and personal quirks, so I don't usually feel a need to comment on sports in public.

My attitude is firmly at the resentful contempt end of the scale - frequently sliding into outright disgust. Far too many millions of dollars are spent on high school, college, and pro sports that could be put to such better use.

As far as I'm concerned, the entire football budget at Penn State should be donated to RAINN or a similar organization for as many years as the abuse was allowed to happen.
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Deborah J. Ross: prancing horse
User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-07-16 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:prancing horse
I grew up in a family that valued cooperation above competition. I remember playing badminton with my younger sister - and the goal was to work together to keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as we could.

So when I applied to college, I looked for one that did not have sports teams. (Well, women's rugby occasionally, and one or two fencers when they had time.) Life is not a spectator event; my favorite form of exercise was folk dancing, preferably to live music.

I have never been able to understand what the performance of a bunch of individual amateur athletes has to do with the academic excellence of an institution of higher education. Physical activity should be fun, and I fail to see how a system in which someone is always a loser can enrich a community.
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The Green Knight: Crossroads
User: green_knight
Date: 2012-07-16 19:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Crossroads
That's how I used to play with a friend - keep the shuttlecock in the air, get tricky shots (without feeling a need to 'beat the opponent'. We were all about keeping the game going, ignoring things such as lines painted on the floor, and we were both happy every time either of us got a good move in.

Much more fun than playing against someone who feels a need to win (or who stops playing once they no longer reliably win.)
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Deborah J. Ross
User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-07-16 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's a special joy in celebrating a good play, no matter who makes it.

Sometimes I think winning makes people tight and grouchy-minded.
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Thom Marrion
User: xnbach
Date: 2012-07-16 19:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" in real life, except much more horrible and for something much more trivial. All the rationalizations are just a demonstration of how human beings can ignore suffering as long as it happens to an other and they somehow benefit.
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martianmooncrab
User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2012-07-16 20:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
at least Nike took Paterno's name off their Child Development Center there in Beaverton.

How many people associated with Sandusky and his *charity* are being investigated for child molestation, the more established predators travel in packs.
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