Monthly Archives: November 2011

“Football is God”

One of the minor benefits to waiting tables is being able to eavesdrop, which is usually just boring.  However, in the last two days, at two different restaurants, I have overheard discussions about child abuse and the recent Penn State scandal.  As dreadful as the allegations are, I consider this one good outcome, that is, to remove the shroud of sanctity that has surrounded the Penn State Football Machine and raise very serious questions in Pennsylvania and around the country.

I read the Grand Jury’s disturbing report about the alleged sexual predator and former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.  If the report is as accurate as it is believable, then a very destructive individual has been arrested and will no longer enjoy the protection of the Penn State Football Machine.  If you want an excellent summary of that report and recent events, go to the New York Daily News article published 11/13/2011, link following.  It is my interpretation that this time line demonstrates that the University was aware of Sandusky’s behavior and moved to protect the organization and the football program years ago, but did not take steps to help victims or to prevent ongoing abuse.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/penn-state-scandal-timeline-sex-abuse-scandal-rocked-happy-valley-article-1.976843

If you think being devoted to God means unquestioning loyalty, worship and obsessive enthusiasm, then football is god.  For many, the Penn State Football Machine is the Vatican and Joe Paterno (JoePa) was the pope.  I’m not the first to make this comparison.  CNN contributor Roy Peter Clark, link follows, makes the point well.  When his story was originally posted to CNN’s Web site homepage, the headline was “Football is God.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/11/opinion/clark-penn-paterno/

Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, wrote this in the New York Times 11/11/2011: “If the allegations are true, head coach Joe Paterno and top-ranking university officials allowed former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to roam loose as a sexual predator even though there were clear indications of his abuse of children.  That has nothing to do with the Nebraska game coming up Saturday. It has to do with a culture at Penn State in which the football program, with Paterno as its god, was allowed to do whatever it wanted, including the protection of one of its own regardless of his alleged depravity.”

The football game was not cancelled Saturday and Penn State lost.  Instead of the display like  earlier in the week when students rioted over the firing of JoePa, there were students holding vigil for the victims.  Nonetheless, what continues to disturb me is the image of football players kneeling in prayer on the field at Saturday’s game.  This strengthens the religion of football, but not real religion.  It is a pathetic attempt of self-aggrandizement to elevate a tainted program.

Most likely the majority of those players would claim to embrace Christianity, being the majority religion of the country and all.  How about a quote from Jesus about this kind of behavior?  “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others,” (Matthew 6:6, New International Version)  If you need others to see you pray, then it is about you.  Just you.  Here’s a prayer: “Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone…”  (Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church).

I admit to not being a sports fan and have blogged about sports in two prior columns: “Smackdown: Man v. Nature” (10/11/2011) and “Sex and Sports and Religion” (6/24/2010).  Neither am I a Penn State graduate, even though many people confuse it with the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), from which I did graduate.  I am close to more than one Penn Stater and they are very upset by any criticism of their alma matter.  The moral failure of the University’s leaders, including JoePa, merits criticism.  That does not diminish things at Penn State like “Thon,” when each year thousands of Penn State students work feverishly for months to raise millions of dollars to help kids with cancer.  I have been to Thon and contributed to Thon.  It remains a valuable and important philanthropic activity at Penn State.  But that does not excuse the lack of morality in the football program.

Football is not god.  In fact, unquestioning loyalty is more appropriately attributed to a cult than a religion.  As we have seen in the past week, it is dangerous.  In both the small decisions and the large ones, each individual has personal responsibility.  Some students were weeping for JoePa while others were lighting candles for victims of abuse.  These are small decisions that I believe affect what will happen next.

I wonder if the Vatican is breathing a sigh of relief that the media winds are blowing a different direction right now.  I hope not.  Because one of the underlying cultural problems is patriarchy.  When you mix men, money and power, bad things will happen.  And when they happen, they will be covered-up because they will protect each other – not the vulnerable and powerless.

Forgive us – for what we have done and what we have left undone.

-J.B.

Photos from CNN online

Advertisements