New Orleans I had a friend a couple of years ago who told me that he had simply stopped reading the sports pages of the paper, because, essentially what was the point, and as he told me, he couldn’t believe the time he was saving. I have thought about that comment repeatedly in recent days as I slog through the police reports, which I have always avoided reading, but now find inescapable because they are dominating the sports pages. I can’t stop reading the sports pages, because that’s where the best writing is often found in daily newspapers, and, truth to tell, I’m still a fan, come hell or high water.
I’ve never cared for Penn State and always thought the deal on Joe Paterno was overblown, but living for the last 40 years between Arkansas and Louisiana, mixed in with relatives from Oklahoma, Mississippi, and even Missouri, and the fierceness of these colleges football and basketball rivalries, I have also been realistic and honest enough to admit that I am also no doubt brainwashed. Of course there is more than enough proof of the SEC’s superiority in objective measurements, but always being a skeptic, I was willing to believe perhaps some of myths about Penn State might be possible.
As a union organizer reading the stories of NFL and NBA bargaining or thinking about the way these big time, moneyhungry state schools pimp out their athletes, there was no doubt that it was hypocrisy at its highest to believe that they were regular Joe students or that a scholarship was enough and they should get paid somehow. Why should Reggie Bush have to return his Heisman at the same time that Cam Newton was winning his? Ridiculous!
But, turning the head, helping cover up, and allowing the abuse of small children is past the pale. I agree with Maureen Dowd of the Times. How could someone, anyone walk by a child’s rape in a public shower and not shout out or step up? I can remember pulling my truck over to stop men beating women on the street in my neighborhood time after time without hesitation. Hell, I can remember yelling at cars speeding on my street because they were endangering small children and squirting hoses at them while shouting, “Slow down!” What did that make me? Good father? Good citizen? Or, crazy man? What culture would allow anyone to ever walk by in silence? If football programs are breeding nothing but cowards, all of the talk of character and winning is nothing more than a loud lie?
When columnists start listing all of the big time programs that have allowed athletes to get away with rape and other sexual abuse and attacks on women, as they swept one problem after another under the rug, how does one not wonder where these institutions, supposedly of “higher learning,” have been as the sea change in other institutions like the church and politics has evolved around the handling of and abuse of sex and power?
Is all of this going to lead to a wholesale restructuring of amateur and collegiate athletics? No, probably not, though it’s a damned shame.
But, is it going to force every college PR department, faculty senate, university administration, and even athletic department to drastically reshape its sense of entitlement, unaccountability, and coddling of deviance within its ranks and enabling of abuse of the defenseless, unprotected, and powerless in their communities? Yes, you bet, and it couldn’t come any sooner than right this minute!