The modern cult of idolatry

The Idolatry of College Football

“Rapine, avarice, expense, This is idolatry; and these we adore; Plain living and high thinking are no more”
William Wordsworth

Let’s play “What would you do” for a moment.  Let’s imagine that you are employed at a well-known College.  You are part of a department whose very existence generates a great deal of money for the college, but still, you are part of a College, an institute of higher education.  You see a crime being committed by a former (but well respected) employee.  What would you do?

Now, let’s say you are still working at this college, but your position is such that if anyone sees something untoward happening, they might tell you about it, essentially dropping it into your lap.  A subordinate comes into your office, or locates you in the break room, it doesn’t matter where;  The important thing is, they come to you and report having seen a crime.  What would you do?

Now you are a little higher up in the hierarchy, and you have heard from a respected department head that a crime has been committed on campus.  What would you do?

You are President of the University.  You are told by a long-standing, well-respected member of the staff that a crime has been committed on the grounds of the campus.  What would you do?

Does your answer change depending on the crime?  Perhaps, I suppose.  Cheating students is not the same thing as fraud, which in turn is not the same thing as assault.  Moreover, because colleges and universities do depend on donations and fundraising efforts and endowments and the like, plus any other revenue stream they can come up with, I can understand the impulse to protect the reputation of the school, the desire to avoid a full on scandal.  In most cases, it is acceptable to handle such a situation discreetly, and with as little fuss as possible.  However, one would expect that the college would report any criminal activity to the authorities, hoping that they (and the reporters who would inevitably show up to find out more) love and respect the school enough to be as discreet as possible.  Mitigating any worry should be the knowledge that the college did the right thing, the moral thing, and therefore the fallout to the school would be minimal.  Right?

All right, let’s get more specific.  Let’s say the crime was against a child.  More specifically, what if you were the one who witnessed rape on a minor, what would you do?  Or the witness came to you and said “I saw such-and-such employee raping a child,” what would you do?  I mean really, at which point is it time to say “I’m calling the police”?  Why would any college think that their reputation needs to be protected at the expense of a child?  I’m having a difficult time understanding the sheer scope of this disaster.

In case you don’t watch the news or have otherwise been living in another world for the last few days, I am referring, of course, to the Penn State University’s decade-long cover up of the rape of minor children on their campus by a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.

Jerry Sandusky served as assistant coach for various football lines for a total of 30 years, from 1966 until 1999. (He also coached at Juniata and Boston universties in 1967 and 1968, respectively).  He is currently under arrest on 40 different counts of sexual assault.  According to the grand jury report, in 1977 he founded “The Second Mile” in state college, initially a foster home for troubled boys.  Later, the college’s mission expanded to “Helping children who need additional support and would benefit from positive human interaction.”

Positive human interaction.  Now there is a phrase for you.  I suppose when Sandusky assaulted a houseguest, then aged 10 and named in the indictment as “Victim 1”, by “rolling under him […] face to face” in bed, “running his hands up and down the boy’s back and cracking it”, later progressing to “blowing on the boy’s bare stomach”, and ultimately “performing oral sex” on the boy more than 20 times, this was supposed to be “positive human interaction”.

But I digress.

The truly shocking thing here isn’t the rapes themselves.  It’s an unfortunate fact that predators prey on victims weaker than themselves, and no one is weaker than a child.  What is shocking is how not a single person at Penn State, from the eye witnessing assistant coach at the time to the President, thought the only option was to call the police and work on damage control from there.

At the time Sandusky was caught in flagrant delico at Penn State, he had already retired from his position at Penn State.  The grand jury found that Sandusky’s charity held camps on Penn State grounds, which Sandusky himself would attend at least as a patron of the camp, though I suspect he was an active coach with the kids.  It seems at least two of the children he raped were attendees of these camps.  How did no one notice, in all this time?

That leads me to this:  does anyone really think this only began in 1999, when the first currently known victim alleges he was first assaulted?  Seriously?  It’s a safe bet that Sandusky was always a predator, and that he indulged his predilections as far back as the 70’s.  At the time, however, sexual assault (especially male on male assault) was simply not discussed… at least, not as long as there were no witnesses. It’s certainly possible that he was more careful in the earlier years, and started slipping in the late 90s.

I doubt he was, shall we say, unpracticed, though.

Penn State has had a winning program under Joe Paterno: Paterno was on Penn State’s coaching staff for 691 of its 1,222 games, 56.5% of all games played by the program dating back to its inception in 1887.  Of those 691 games, Paterno saw the team to 409 wins.  That’s 59.2%, a record unequaled by any coach. As a result of this record, spanning more than 30 years, Paterno is a legend in the world of college football.  Fans of other teams still now and respect him and the work he has accomplished during his tenure, and deservedly so.  To them, Paterno is a hero, a hero of football.

So when news of Sandusky’s alleged abuse and a cover-up that reached all the way to the Penn State President Graham Spanier, it’s not surprising that these fans would feel disappointment, even disgust at Paterno’s role… or lack thereof.

It seems they were disgusted all right, but not with Paterno.  They turned their ire towards the school who promptly let him go, along with President Spanier and other high level administrators who are either on administrative leave at the moment, or being offered a choice between being fired or resigning.

This is the point where fanaticism turns into idolatry.  When the what should be the object of admiration but acceptance as a human being becomes the object of blind worship: that is idolatry.  It is following false prophets of a sort, as well.

There is no grey areas in this case.  We are talking about the abuse of children.  Not even teenagers or young adults.  Children.  Pre-pubescent boys.  Sexual abuse.  Rape.  Let me use that word again, because it isn’t being used enough in the media reports.

We are talking about the rape of minor children.

Here’s another word for you: pedophilia.

No grey areas here, and no excuses for those making excuses.  The graduate assistant coach knew, because he saw with his own eyes.  Others saw enough to be suspicious, and even admitted so before the grand jury.  Every single one of them is complicit after the fact.  How dare they make excuses now?

As for Paterno, as head of the program, he truly does not deserve my respect.  We are talking about a crime so egregious, so onerous, that his validity as a hero is completely wiped out by that one decision he took 20 years ago.

He should have had Sandusky fired immediately.

His golden position also granted him the power.  He chose to squander it.  That’s cowardice, and completely anathema to the kind of values he strove to instill in his players for decades.

As for the fans, the ones who thought overturning a news van was an appropriate response: shame on you.  I’d love to know your names, so I could make sure my children or any children I am in charge of are never anywhere near you.  You are part of the problem, not the solution.
Further reading: I have found the following articles touching in their own ways.

Theoren Fleury : the real tragedy is in the kids.
From Michael Reagan, son of the late Ronald Reagan: what to do if you know or suspect a child is being molested.

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5 Responses to The modern cult of idolatry

  1. Brian Smith says:

    Very well written, and good thoughts.

    Paterno was a coaching legend; the events of the past few days have obliterated his status as a human legend.

  2. It is beyond sad. Pedophiles are very good at scaring children and fooling the adults around them. You kept asking ‘What would you do?’ I think the problem is we don’t know what was done and we don’t know what was exactly seen? I want to know why the young coach didn’t pursue it further when he saw something and did Joe do any follow up? The problem is did they believe Sandusky’s lies? The lies of a pedophile,someone they had a long history, friendship and working relationship with? That is a huge mistake but what would you do if someone you worked closely with for many years was accused of something horrid and you couldn’t even begin to fathom it? Would you believe their explanations? Unfortunately,I think the adults believed the pedophile and didn’t do the proper follow through which is horrible, tragic and scary for all victims and it makes me sick to my stomach and worse I have been there, my daughter spent an entire season with a coach that was later convicted and went to jail for molesting a young girl! Imagine how we felt as parents? We never would have thought in a million years that the coach was a pedophile we thought the guy was awesome, we loved this coach and we left our daughter at practice with him all the time. No child told on him, the mother came to pick her daughter up early ( the young girl was babysitting his kids) and caught him red handed. Life sucks! My daughter assured us he never touched her. I understand the firing of all the people at Penn State, they should have dug deeper but all I am saying is Pedophiles know how to work people to get what they want, it is sick.

  3. Jaguwar says:

    Ah, but given the Grand Jury’s report, we *do* know what was seen and what was and wasn’t done. The young coach saw actual sodomy happening, and instead of intervening, he went home and told daddy, who told Paterno, who arranged with Spanier to have the whole thing essentially covered up. There is no talking to the pedophile (or even the alleged pedophile) when he has been caught in the act, like the little girl you describe. Do not pass go, go straight to the police.

    Not a single one of them called authorities. Not one. That is deplorable, to say the least.

  4. I have not followed the story close enough, thanks for informing me. You are right, it is deplorable. The young coach should have gone straight to the cops, period. As a former teacher, I know that all schools train their personnel on how to handle such a situation. There was no gray area ‘so to speak’. This is beyond sick and very sad, to say the least.

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