I’m a rare guy in that while I enjoy the playing of sports, even though I stink at them, and occasionally attending a live sports event, when the bank loan goes through to buy the tickets, I don’t watch sports on TV. Because, you know what, they’re boring. If I want to drink beer, I don’t have to watch spoiled millionaires to do it (this is the same reason I don’t watch any E! reality shows).
But I reserve special contempt for football, because the entitlement and sheer greed in both the college and professional levels is really kind of appalling. American football really boils down to grown men beating each other into an early grave to sell weak beer and pickup trucks. Seriously, if this were any other industry, a few owners would be in jail by now.
So you can imagine how I felt when it had turned out that Penn State, in the name of keeping the Nittany Lions competitive, had covered up the long history of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky, including a horrifying first-hand incident reported to Joe Paterno directly by a graduate assistant. Literally the first thing out of my mouth was “Typical”. And then Paterno was fired and Penn State students, well, rioted.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think Paterno did anything criminal, although once he realized that nothing was going to happen at the college level, he should have gone to law enforcement. Which, yes, is a difficult decision for anybody faced with discovering a close friend is a monster. Still, Paterno knew there was a grave problem and did only the minimum; for that, he deserved to be fired.
And, really, it’s not like he won’t be back, unless he simply chooses to retire. Winning football games has forgiven far worse than doing nothing in the face of evil. Michael Vick fought dogs and he’s been redeemed. Ben Roethlisberger is by many accounts a rapist and he’s never spent a day in jail. Even if they do go to jail, football players get far more free passes than most people, or even other athletes: Leonard Little had to kill two children in a car accident before he was punished for his habit of driving drunk, and before they put him in jail again after his release, he had to fail three field sobriety tests.
I’m not trying to play off football fans as mindless or overly generous: they’re not. Nor am I insisting all football players are scumbags, because most of them are decent guys. But then again, they’re not the source of the problem. The source of the problem is, pure and simple, money. The NFL made $8 billion in revenue last year, and while star players sell tickets, a lot of that money comes from civic pride and broadcast rights. It’s not like a Roethlisberger can ding that TV revenue, right?
I’m not even getting into the NCAA and its abuses. But the result is a culture that as long as the dollars are flowing, nothing is inexcusable. Imagine a man being accused of sexual assault not once, but twice, trying to be in a hit TV show. It’d never work. Imagine a pop singer accused of being involved in dogfighting, going to jail for two years, getting out, and having a massive comeback album; never happen.
And that’s the problem. Until we start holding the players (and the owners) to the same standards we hold everybody else, there are going to be more Jerry Sanduskys. That simple.