Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Off Topic: The Sway of Sports

Allow me to stray from the topic of this blog for the first since I started this in September of 2010. There's some current events that have stuck in my craw and I am going to use the soapbox of my blog to get on my soapbox.

Before I do that, here's some personal background. I formerly worked at a local sports radio station. I left primarily because radio is a dying industry, especially for younger folks like me. There are less and less jobs available (even when the economy was great) for an industry that a lot of people would like to be employed.

However, one of the secondary reasons had to do with what I felt was the misplaced priority that sports played in society. There were several regular callers who could answer any question related to their sports topic of choice, but had no idea about things happening around, whether it was local or national.

My personal philosophy is one of that is rational, based on being informed. I really don't care if you follow sports, but at least know something else about your surrounding world. That's one reason I have some respect for much of the tea party movement. I have little agreement with much of their platform (though not all), but at least for the most part, they are educated about where they stand.

As a kid, I grew up a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan, but while I was at the radio station, it changed. I was exposed to more of the team's inner workings and I just couldn't justify routing for a team that put more emphasis on winning than character. My breaking point was the signing of Terrell Owens. I could no longer justify and support a team I couldn't identify with and came to despise some of its players.

With that in mind, I wish to comment on the Penn State scandal, specifically reactions to the sanctions handed out by the NCAA yesterday. These sanctions were a four year post-season ban, reduction from the 25 yearly scholarships to 15, a $60 million fine and the vacating of wins from the earliest time period when the child sexual abuse was known to the higher ups until this past season.

My first moment of disgust came when I saw a video reaction of the student body. They were distraught. I have seen people react less than crushed when they have been informed of a passing in the family.

I understand that football, especially at certain Universities, can be a big part of student life, but in the end, it is just football. Your degree still means the same, you don't have to work any more or less to receive it, the rest of the student life is the same, the value of your degree hasn't diminished and in the end, IT IS JUST FOOTBALL. Child safety, especially sexual assault, should not ever be put behind any sport.

The program I was watching interviewed several students, and aside from one reasonable learner, the basic commentary was that it wasn't fair. They are right, the victims who were abused because Sandusky was able to use the name of Penn State as a cover to minimize their feelings didn't have a say. When the higher-ups found out, they were more concerned with the football program's reputation than stopping future victimizations and seeking justice for those who had already been violated. Yes, it isn't fair.

As to their point about punishing the current program for the past ones transgressions, I have a few thoughts. While I do understand their point, it is irrelevant in the long run, because that is how punishments work. Example, when I was a child, I was supposed to have a sleepover. I violated a rule and my mom would not let me go to my friend's house that night. By the students (and many others) logic, it wasn't my friend's fault, so I shouldn't be punished and should have gone to that sleepover.

Many times, there will be negative consequences for those not involved. Go to a football coach during two-a-days and say you shouldn't have to run because your teammate made the mistake, not you. See how that works out.

In some ways, it is precisely because those who didn't have a say are being punished that it will stop it again. Going back to that coaching analogy, the player guilty of making a mistake that causes his teammates to run will be a bit more wise in that situation again. That is exactly what the NCAA is looking to accomplish.

The point I am trying to get at is simple. The NCAA couldn't sit idly by and do nothing, even though Paterno is dead and the Athletic Director and President are gone. That would allow future perpetrators a greater leverage, since the NCAA didn't do anything now. Yes, they are right that the current coach didn't do anything, but sadly for them, Penn State was the first one to do it, or heaven forbid, was just the first to get caught. If it stops future abuse, then I am all for it, and anyone else really should be. Preventing child sexual abuse shouldn't see anyone on the fence.

And in another way, the students reaction just really shows why this happened in the first place. These students are still putting the football program above almost everything else. These children were abused because the University worshiped that team. That obviously hasn't changed.

Here's a relevant quote from Mark Emmert, NCAA president:

These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the 'sports are king' mind-set that can so dramatically cloud the judgement of educators.

I still think some of those with a direct link to Penn State are missing the message.

Are they shocked that their beloved program was complacent in raping kids or that they can't play in a bowl game?

The Dallas Morning News published several stories in today's edition, the most recent after the sanctions were announced. One story's main topic was the $60 million fine won't hurt Penn St too much because 1) it will be paid out over 4 years and 2) boosters will step up and donations will rise.

I don't have too much of a problem with increased donations. However, how about you donate the funds to a charity that supports or aides child victims of sexual assault? By not doing that, it sends a quiet, indirect message that you condone this type of action.

But Bob Harrison, Class of 1962, booster and Goldman Sachs employers doesn't just want to send a quiet message. From the DMN:

Frustrated that the NCAA based its sanctions on what he considers a deeply flawed report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, Harrison's support for the school and the athletic department has not wavered. And he believes he's not the only booster who feels that way.

"I would say a high percentage supporting the athletic program will continue to," said Harrison, who worked for Goldman Sachs for 28 years.

The last thing I would do if I were in any way related to Penn St would be to criticize the Freeh report. There were concrete e-mails in there that show Paterno, as well as the AD, President and the campus Police Chief, covering this up. Their big plan to stop Sandusky from abusing kids in the future? Ban him from the campus. Not report it to the proper authorities, not go to the press, not file charges, but basically say you don't have to stop, but you get to get the heck up out of here.

To criticize anything in the that report, which is based on these concrete communiques, is to blindly follow your team and condone the sexual assault of children. I don't mind you supporting your team, but who is supporting the victims? Who is ensuring this doesn't happen again? Who is working to change the the culture so that it errs on the side of caution rather than wins? I can tell you it isn't the students, and it isn't Bob Harrison. BTW, why do you think the AP writer decided to include Harrison's employer in the story?

Putting sports first is a common problem in our society. My stance on stadiums is clear, yet the public votes for them with the winning margin almost certainly from some voters support their team. Domestic disturbance calls for law enforcement are always higher during major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Think to your workplace. What is the most common water cooler talk? Sports usually, especially around bigger events.

Before resuming planning and urban development talk, let me close this post with this quote from Emmert.

One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become 'too big to fail' - or even too big to challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs.

It seems despite this crime and penalty, some at Penn State still haven't reset their priorities. If they can't put the cessation or even punishment of sexual assault on kids ahead of the football program, what can they?

1 comment:

Ken Duble said...

Thanks for speaking out.