A planned Tuesday afternoon press conference by Joe Paterno coach was cancelled amidst rumors the legendary Penn State head football coach would be forced to resign amidst growing outrage over the PSU athletic department’s reluctance to tell local police about former defensive coordinatior Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual assaults on children. While The Classical’s David Roth isn’t the first or the last to compare Penn State to the Catholic Church in this instance, but his astute observation, “the discovering of just how many craven and manifestly bad decisions were made by brand-minded administrators in hopes that this story would never break recalls the nauseous revelation, during the end of the Bush years, that the financial industry was built on artifice and graft and the horrific realization that everything it had touched was infected and terribly contagious,” lines up pretty well alongside Edge Of Sports’ David Zirin‘s argument, “the connective tissue between benign booster scandals and this monstrous state of affairs are more substantial than people want to admit.”
It’s connected to the Bowl Championship Series, “conference realignment” and all the ways in which college football has morphed over the last generation into a multibillion-dollar big business. This isn’t about Sandusky. This is about a culture that says the football team must be defended at all costs: a culture where the sexual assault of a 10-year-old is reported to Paterno before the police.
This is what happens when a football program becomes the economic and spiritual heartbeat of an entire section of a state. The Nittany Lions football regularly draws 100,000 fans to Happy Valley. They also produce $50 million in pure profit for the university every year and have been listed as the most valuable team in the Big 10 conference. Another economic report held that every Penn State game pumps $59 million into the local economy: from hotels to kids selling homemade cookies by the side of the road. It’s no wonder that Paterno is revered. He took a football team and turned it into an economic life raft for a university and a region. When something becomes that valuable, a certain mindset kicks in. Protect the team above all over concerns. Protect Joe Pa. Protect Nittany Lions football. Protect the brand. In a company town, your first responsibility is to protect the company.
Penn State has never been an “outlaw program.” It’s what every school aspires to become. Think about that. Every school aspires to be the kind of place where football is so valuable that children can become collateral damage. If the allegations are true, if the school in fact knew this was going on, then the program should be shut down. If the allegations are true, Joe Paterno should be instructed to take his 46 years and 409 wins and leave in disgrace. It’s tragic that it’s come to this for a legend like Paterno. But it’s even more tragic that protecting his legend mattered more than stopping a child-rapist in their midst.