The importance of being football

I had planned on writing on this blog regularly, and then life interfered — big time. Now it’s taken something like the abuse scandal and sanctions at Penn State to get me writing again. Not the way it should be, but the way it is. Again, I hope to write more on this blog in the future, and hopefully not just about sports.

But sports was originally the main purpose of the blog, and sports is what brings me back to it today. Or is it?

The statue of Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus was taken down Sunday morning, but the memory of what brought it down will last far longer.

Obviously the sanctions levied against Penn State by the NCAA today are sports-related. The football program was hit with huge scholarship losses, a four-year bowl ban, probation and a loss of victories from 1998-2011 that sent Paterno tumbling from the top of the all-time wins list to 298 career wins. The school was also fined $60 million that will be put into an endowment for programs that either prevent child abuse or help victims of the crime. That doesn’t even include the sanctions applied by the Big Ten Conference.

Some have observed that while this stops short of the “death penalty” that some were predicting for the Nittany Lions, this might be worse because of the short- and long-term effect it will have. Current players are eligible to transfer to other schools and play immediately without penalty, and 20 scholarships a year lost is nearly a quarter of those typically used at top Division I schools. This could cripple the program for years to come, maybe decades.

Whether or not the punishment is appropriate is not up to me. The punishments levied were harsh but not surprising, and the death penalty wouldn’t have surprised me either. Nothing like this has ever happened before (that we know of, God forbid), so there’s no frame of reference for anyone to be saying the penalties are too severe. And being an Alabama fan, if I found out something like this were happening under Saban (or any previous coach) I wouldn’t expect or hope the punishment to be any less for the Crimson Tide.

What happened was a result of the Nittany Lions football team, its coach and the reputation of both meaning more to those in a position to stop the horrific events than the people whose lives were affected or ruined by those horrific events. Period. Those people in positions of power were both within the program and in the Penn State administration, making it more than just a football matter.

The Paterno family’s indignant reaction should be of little surprise either, as they’ve continued to listen to every new revelation and piece of evidence against their beloved patriarch with their fingers in their ears and making loud noises to drown it out. The only surprising thing to me was that the statement didn’t include a declaration that Paterno was still the all-time wins leader among Division I coaches — because that and JoePa’s legacy are the most important things.

Watching Penn State students on TV today react with shock and disappointment in the ruling, saying it’s too much and how terrible it is for them and their school, almost nauseates me. The fact that they can’t think about anyone but themselves after so much negative exposure for selfish attitudes throughout the scandal simply shows immaturity, to the point they certainly shouldn’t be sitting or standing in front of cameras and microphones held by people eager to exploit them for continuing live coverage.

But in their minds, this is just a sports story, a story hurting the team and school they love (many of them enough to pay a lot of money to attend). And yes, it is a sports story. More importantly, it’s a story about people, the people who were hurt by this tragedy and those who may potentially be helped by the money being “donated” by Penn State. Not everyone needs the reminder, but the fact that some still do continues to baffle me.