By Lauren | July 17, 2012
As frequent readers of my blog know, we had a technial glitch that kept me off the keys last week. Now that it’s gone (thanks to my talented Webmaster), I want to talk about the rapidly escalating scandal at Penn State.
You’d have to live on the other side of the moon not to know that Penn State’s former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been convicted of molesting underage boys over a period of years. That’s horrifying enough, but an internal investigation report alleges that four of the most powerful men at Penn State, including deceased coaching legend Joe Paterno, knew that the university was sheltering a sexual predator. According to the report, they not only failed to stop or report Sandusky, but actively protected him by concealing his crimes … and all in the name of football.
I’ve long had the uneasy sense that college sports (and particularly football) too often create a cozy haven where unethical behavior can flourish. Colleges and universities are supposed to focus on educating students and benefitting society with academic research. (There’s a reason why they’re called “institutions of learning” and not “athletic training facilities.”) College athletics should encourage students to be physically healthy, but too often they morph into multi-million dollar side businesses for schools that are strapped for cash. When successful sports teams become central to a school’s identity and solvency, the ethical risk escalates.
Recent commentary suggests that Penn State would be dealt a devastating blow if its football program was shut down for a year or two. If that’s true, the university really needs to reconsider what its raison d’etre should be. Until the Sandusky scandal broke, Penn State had an excellent reputation not only because it had a good football team, but because it has an outstanding academic faculty that gives students a great education. If the university’s leadership had focused on its mission to educate, it would have been obvious that Penn State’s duty was not to shelter a sexual predator, but to report him to authorities and cooperate fully in his prosecution. If Penn State’s football fans and donors didn’t understand that, they needed an education in basic human decency that Penn State’s leaders should have provided.