How did we get here?

By Bruce Hooley

I’m questioning my role in my profession today.

It’s not the first time, because the bloodlust for victory, the all-consuming quest for another championship, the raging sense of entitlement that cannibalizes anyone who questions the status quo in college athletics has bothered me for a long time.

Now it’s more than some nagging concern over whether I’m helping to perpetuate a system, despite portions I loathe. The heinous nature of the allegations at the forefront of the Penn State football scandal compel me to examine my role in glorifying a system of big-time college sports that’s twisted so horribly off center.

How did we get here? How did we bastardize college athletics into something that clouds the judgment of supposed shapers of tomorrow’s generation when the right thing to do is so clear? What pressures must the chase for one more championship inflict on the men in charge of the nation’s elite programs that their moral compasses become so skewed?

A few years back, the murder of a college basketball player at Baylor University horrified us. It couldn’t get worse, we thought. But we were wrong. Victims of child abuse die a thousand deaths, with their innocence stolen, their self-esteem crushed and their faith in those charged with protecting them forever shattered.

It is against this horrifying backdrop of multiple young boys’ lives either ruined or irreparably scarred that they will nevertheless pack 105,000 fans into Beaver Stadium this weekend for the customary revelry of Penn State football. The 40 counts of sexual abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, and head coach Joe Paterno’s and university administrators’ roles in covering it up, are apparently not enough to stall the machine that churns inexorably on.

This scandal is far worse than anything that’s happened at Ohio State, Oregon, LSU, USC, Auburn, Miami, Alabama or any other elite program that’s been touched by controversy in recent years. The similarity though, is that no matter what happens, the beast must be fed. The games must be played. The cash register must continue to ring.

For far too long, far too many have foolishly gained their greatest source of self-esteem from what happens on the playing fields of college campuses across the country. Sadly, but predictably, fans of those programs previously subjected to unflattering headlines because of mistakes of their favorite school’s own creation have seized upon the Penn State fiasco as proof that, “See, we’re not that bad.”

To brandish such logic suggests a perverted embrace of what went on at Penn State. It provides a convenient prop for the weak-willed to lean on in convincing themselves that someone else is worse.

All that does is victimize the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky one more time, as if they haven’t suffered enough.

Penn State cancelled Paterno’s press conference on Tuesday, when it should have cancelled the final home game of the season Saturday against Nebraska. It’s simply wrong to conduct business as usual when we have overwhelming evidence from the Pennsylvania Attorney General that Sandusky used Penn State football as an allure to entrap and violate the boys he preyed upon.

Knowing that, who can tailgate, sing the alma mater or stand and cheer for a touchdown like nothing happened? Penn State’s students clearly demonstrated Tuesday night, when hundreds gathered on Paterno’s lawn in a chanting, hand-clapping show of support, that they will further embarrass their school if given the platform.

They sang the raucous theme from Seven Nation Army, as if this entire ugly episode is some third-and-12 the Nittany Lions can escape with adequate pass protection and a well-placed downfield throw.

I’ve been to State College and experienced its game-day atmosphere many times. I’ve written and spoken glowingly about it, and about other similar environments in Columbus, Madison, Ann Arbor and South Bend.

I’m not sure if I can, or should, bring myself to do that with the same enthusiasm ever again. Not now that I know what the misplaced hero worship and twisted priorities that result can enable and excuse.

Email hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans on ESPN 850 WKNR www.espncleveland.com from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday

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15 Comments

  1. First article that surprised me Bruce, very well said but i will disagree only on one area, when it comes to writing about the environments of our colleges don’t let the bad situations that arise from a sick man affect that whole place we all clearly know it’s not everyone at penn we just have to decide where the line is drawn when it comes to this i’ll give ya an example of why it’s unfair to hit the whole school.

    You show up to work and you find out your screen caller or intern was doing shady activities and it broke in the media, would it be fair to group everyone who works and listens to KNR in with his misdeeds? obvisiously not and thats how i see the the situation at penn also.

  2. Excellent article, Bruce. We have lost sight of what is important in college athletics. Sadly, it’s become all about money and wins, when it should be all about education and helping to mold young men and women into upstanding and responsible citizens. Sports should always be secondary to these goals.

  3. Legend and icon one day..Shameful, pathetic individual the next. McQueary should be dismissed and Paterno should not get the call as to when he will retire. To let that go for 9 years !? How that kid will ever trust any adult in the future is beyond me. He probably thought someone was there to intervene and the guy walks out and does nothing ! Then there is no follow up for nine years… I feel bad for the players at PSU. If I am a player though I wonder if I even want to wear those colors anymore.

  4. Sadly and horrifyingly accurate and true. It is painfully symbolic that two alledged pillars of virtue like Tressel and Paterno have been pulled down by the business that college sports has become. The NCAA has become irrelevent. Its hypocracy compared to true professional sports is sad. I have no solution in mind which is also sad.

    • OSU and PENN STATE ARE the NCAA!
      The NCAA is not some separate entity making and enforcing arbitrary rules willy nilly.

  5. Bruce, do the only humane thing left to do and donate every dime you make off College athletics to victims of abuse. Also, demand that your colleagues do the same.

  6. I’ve always felt that the glorification of college football is nothing more than a fix to feed sports fans’ insatiable need to be able to root for another “winner” – even if said fan has no connection whatsoever to the school for which they are rooting. And do these teams, these college students, owe it to ANYONE to “be a winner?” MAYBE the other students and alums, but even then, would I, as a college student, also owe it to them to get good grades? Is it just because the sport is played in a stadium in front of thousands? Or that some decades-old “tradition” is being upheld? I feel bad for any college athlete who plays hard every game, but then has to put up with the scrutiny of the fans AND the media, most of whom have no connection to the team they’re criticizing, and in my opinion, have no real right to be critical at all..

  7. Bruce – I haven’t always agreed with your views on the scandal that rocked tOSU over the past year but you are spot on here. It puts life into perspective for sure.

    Everyone was there to protect the reputation of Penn State but unfortunately nobody was there to protect those children. The entire program needs to go.

    Well said.

  8. Strong statements Bruce, and true. We have lost what sports represent and the lessons that can be learned on the field, the court, the pitch, the track as well as how those lessons can be applied to everyday life. When we as fanatics glorify these coaches, athletes, and athletic programs to the level we currently do, it puts them in a position of deity that is then difficult to tear down when their actions require us to do so. Thank you for your honesty in this article and I miss your opinions here in Columbus.

  9. Mr. Hooley’s outrage should be directed first and foremost at Jerry Sandusky and secondarily at those individuals in leadership positions at PSU who failed to take appropriate action. That outrage should NOT be directed at the fans or the players that had nothing to do with the terrible acts reported. To suggest that games be cancelled makes about as much sense as suggesting that classes be cancelled and that the university be closed down. I think Mr. Hooley is letting emotions override reason.

    And just for the record, I have no connection to PSU and I’m neither a fan of their team nor their coach.

  10. So Bruce has used this opportunity to say what every other person is saying. Hey Bruce are you not an abuser of the opportunity here ? Show us something real like quit the profession to help these kids instead of writing about it in such a self promotional way. Your message makes me want to tell you to sit down, shut up, and listen in the way an angry grandfather corrects his out of line grandson.
    So heed the advice, we all know what you feel, its the same as most men today. So sit down, shut up and listen. The reaction of those involved is now the story.

  11. I think they should play the game. The players on the team didn’t do anything wrong.

    Paterno must NOT be there. He may not be the bad guy, certainly it doesn’t appear he did anything criminal, but he is also not the hero.

    By announcing his retirement, he’s let everyone know that this will be his last home game. Perhaps it wasn’t his intention, but the result is now a honoring of a man who should be doing anything other than a victory lap.

  12. I too was disappointed to see the students rally for Joe like that. It’s nice that they love the old man, but it suggests they don’t “get it.” But I don’t think they’re in the majority, not of the students and certainly not of locals. I live in State College and everyone I’ve talked to is shocked and sad. Nobody I know thinks Joe should coach on Saturday. Nobody I know thinks Spanier should still be president by Saturday. And he’s a relatively popular president.

    I love Joe Paterno and everything he’s done for this community. He was my neighbor. I know his family. And yet I also believe he should be charged for criminal negligence. I’m not alone in having both feelings. That’s how torn we are over this.

    Cancelling the game is not a real option. I certainly see your point, but it’s not realistic and it’s not fair to the players on either team.
    (one solution I like is what they do in South American soccer sometimes when the hooligans act up. They play the game behind closed doors). Indeed, the monster must be fed, but don’t forget that the monster pays for the college education of a lot of kids and allows a lot of athletes who don’t play football the chance to compete and study. Sure, there’d be a certain justice in shutting down the football program for a while or forever, but if that meant we also had to shut down baseball, field hockey, volleyball, soccer, etc, we’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Joe’s failure here certainly casts all the good things he’s done in a different light, but we shouldn’t let it *undo* all the good things he’s done.

  13. So, in your words a few bad apples really do spoil the whole bunch…thanks so much for enlightening us. It is attitudes like yours that would bring down an institution where only a very few were privy to the horrible things that were really going on…but sure, let’s punish everyone, the kids, the players, the ticket takers, the vendors, the cleaning crew, the parents and everyone else who has lead an honorable life – doing their very best to enjoy a favored past time. While we are at it, why don’t we just lynch Joe Paterno now? Burn him at the stake? Hell, who cares if he wasn’t the one to do those horrible eveil things to those poor victims, but yeah…let’s pretend he did and lets not give those kids who stood up for him any credit, let’s refer to them as “embarrassements” like you said. Well, if showing support for someone, someone who has not been convicted, or found guilty is a crime, then send me to jail to because I will support Joe Paterno to the end. I believe the phrase is “innocent until proven guilty”, you should say it sometime, see how it rolls off your tongue.

  14. How can you possibly say all of this? Oh, that’s right, because ’tis true! May God have mercy on their souls…


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