I like Rick Reilly. He’s a sportswriter, if you were wondering. He can make me laugh, and he even turns a phrase, sometimes, that sticks with me. (I can’t think of any of them now, but I did remember. For a little while, anyway. Promise.) I don’t always read his stuff, but I did today. My wife told me about it. She knew it would make me mad.
Reilly expressed a seemingly prevalent point of view, at least in the sportswriting community. At least in the northeast. Apparently this group thinks Penn State should be honored because they are playing football. The team is a monument to the power of football beyond the field, or some other grandiose nonsense. He even waxes quite eloquently about it to make his case for Bill O’Brien, the Penn State football coach, as the National College Coach of the Year.
“Into the teeth of the worst college football scandal in American history, into a sex-scandal mess the National Guard couldn’t have cleaned up, Bill O’Brien pulled off a football miracle: He made you forget Penn State was radioactive.
O’Brien went 8-4 in the middle of nuclear winter. He kept popping open umbrellas while it rained bowling balls. He made a numb town feel again. That’s why he’s either the coach of the year in college football this season or you melt down the trophy.”
As if any of that matters. But if you live in Reilly’s world it does. Every Penn State football game this season has been on national TV (ABC/ESPN). The only other team that can boast that is Notre Dame, and that’s because they have their own network (NBC). Every week there is some feel good story about a Penn State student or athlete on one of the sports shows. But I don’t know if Penn State wins or loses, or what the stories are about. Because in this house Penn State football games are never on the TV. Because when there are highlights or stories about Penn State football we change the channel. Because Penn State shouldn’t have any football players. Because Penn State shouldn’t have a football coach.
BECAUSE PENN STATE SHOULD NOT HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM.
And I’ll tell you why. Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s defensive coordinator and heir apparent to Joe Paterno, was suspected of sexually abusing children through his The Second Mile football camps over 20 years ago. Everybody in the administration at Penn State knew about it. He lost his status as heir apparent, but he stayed at the school. Twenty years later, when another coach saw Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State athletic facilities shower, everybody knew about that, too. The head football coach knew. The athletic director knew. The head of the university knew.
And they covered it up, again. Because of the football team. What a member of the Penn State fraternity was doing to young boys, and had been doing for over 20 years, was deemed less important than the football team.
So, how do we punish such a school when all of this becomes public? Take away what was most precious to them. The football team.
No, not the football team. What about the kids, the football players? These are the same kids that were living under a regime that condoned the sexual abuse of children, right? The same kids whose parents found out about what was happening and still let them stay in that environment. The same kids who would have been welcomed to any other university in the country if Penn State no longer had a football team.
No. Instead, according to Reilly, we honor them.
“Last week, just before that final game versus Wisconsin, Penn State did something chilling and emotional and real. It put the 2012 Nittany Lions on the ring at Beaver Stadium that honors Penn State’s greatest teams.”
I guess in this strange, sad, sick world, what was most precious to Penn State is more important after all. The football team.