Remember back in the good old days, when the Nevin Shapiro booster scandal at the University of Miami, rocked the college football world ? When Jim Tressel got the boot because players were trading “golden pants” for tattoos and he didn’t tell anyone until it was too late ?
Ah, the halcyon days of John Junker’s Fiesta Bowl scandal, including visits to strip clubs that were expensed and his 50th birthday party on the bowl’s dime. Come with us now, as we walk down memory lane, to a time when the name Cecil Newton ( Cam’s dad) and the phrase “pay for play” stole the headlines and bespoke the worst kind of scandal.
Wow, do I miss those days.
All that seems so trivial now. Last fall, when news emerged from a place called Happy Valley, it all changed. If there was any innocence left in college football, it ended.
That’s when the allegations against Jerry Sandusky became known. When I first read about him on Twitter, I turned to my wife and said, “this is bad. This is really bad.”
There were the child sexual abuse allegations, the apparent coverup by school officials at the peril of young people, the departure of three top school officials and the firing of an iconic football coach. Joe Paterno lost his job and legacy because he apparently failed to act decisively at a critical moment.
Joe Paterno, a coach who preached “success with honor.” Now, he is remembered for these words: “I wish I had done more.”
This was followed by another bizarre chain of events — a violent protest by some Penn State students after Paterno’s firing, with some chanting outside his home until he and his wife emerged to say a few words. Meanwhile, others held a vigil for the kids.
Then there was Sandusky’s odd appearance on television to state his case, when he should have remained silent. His attorney seemed to make it worse with every word he uttered. Meanwhile, we forget about the alleged victims.
There was a highly regarded institution now synonymous with the worst kind of human behavior, and one of the nation’s great football programs left in ashes. It could take years for the school and the football program to recover, and some wondered if Penn State should keep playing at all. There were innocent football players trying to make sense of it all.
There were uncomfortable questions about just how much this institution valued football over anything else. In a sport flush with television money, are people less inclined than ever to upset the apple cart ?
There is a question even more uncomfortable: how much are any of us willing to sweep under the rug in the name of a dollar ? In a recession, are we more inclined to trample over anyone and anything, in order to keep a job ? If we were in Mike McQueary’s shoes, how would we act ?
The Sandusky case shed a vary harsh light on Penn State, and on our sports culture. That case will be played out in all its ugly detail in 2012, unless Sandusky decides to plead out. Then, there will be the equally ugly case against fired Syracuase associate basketball coach Bernie Fine to crowd the headlines.
It was a year of huge stories, to be sure: lockouts by both the NFL and NBA, a wild final night of the baseball regular season, a kid winning the Daytona 500, Albert Pujols going west after winning another World Series, the deaths of Joe Frazier and Al Davis. Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit and Mariano Rivera got the saves record.
There was a stirring win by the U.S. over Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, then the loss to an inspired Japanese team trying to give its country something to cheer about after an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
Unfortunately, the top sports story of 2011 was a no-brainer. In fact, the Sandusky case was voted the #6 NEWS story in an Associated Press poll. This will be remembered as the year we may have found out just how low people will go to preserve a job, a legacy, an institution, and a revenue stream.
In a country that seems to value the dollar and social status more than anything, a school that pretended to be above it all may have acted in a manner that should be beneath our contempt. Ugly scarcely describes it.