The Underbelly of College Sports

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by now, but I am.

I’ve followed collegiate athletics since the late 1970s and in the time since, one would think we’ve seen enough to dull the senses: run of the mill cheating, point fixing, players murdering teammates, split personalities, coaches cheating on wives and beating secretaries, keep it down home ‘cuz and the list goes on.

But the Penn State situation has shocked me and taken my disgust level to new depths.  And the hits keep coming.

Today’s turn of events includes at least one person having the courage to stand up to Joe Paterno:

“The coach was literally telling his players that they couldn’t cooperate with judicial affairs or they would get kicked off the team. So we were going nowhere in getting to the bottom of things,” Triponey said. “I said to the coach, ‘This would be so much easier if you would tell your players just to tell the truth.’ He was livid, and the message to me was, ‘I can’t do that. They have to play for me and I can’t ask them to rat on each other.’ The president also chimed in and said, ‘Vicky, the coach is right. We can’t expect the players to tell the truth.’ So that’s the environment that was underlying this whole debate about who’s in charge.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened in intercollegiate athletics.  Tom Osborne and Lawrence Phillips immediately come to mind.  But it’s still sickening.

A lot of folks like to type and talk about all that’s wrong with college sports, but this quoted paragraph encapsulates the entire subject.  Paterno had accumulated absolute power over not only Penn State athletics, but also the school.  To the point where he could, at least for a while, circumvent justice.  It wasn’t about money, Paterno had plenty of it and had everything else that he needed.  What he really craved was power.  And when anything came along that might weaken his power, he apparently used every measure he could to crush it.  The Jerry Sandusky scandal may or may not have sunk Paterno if it had come to light in the late 1990s or early 2000s.  But Paterno didn’t give it a chance, though, and used all his might to crush it.  Collateral damage to others didn’t matter.

He also tried the same with this event:

In April 2007, as many as two dozen football players forced their way into a party at an off-campus apartment and assaulted several students at the party, including Britt’s son, Jack, who was severely beaten. Six players faced criminal charges as a result of the brawl. In the end, many of the charges against the players were dismissed, and two players pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses.

I don’t know all of the facts of this case and it could be that the charges that stuck were appropriate.  But it sounds like one more example Paterno using his corrupt power to protect himself.

Joe Paterno had accumulated enough power to seemingly insulate himself from anything that might damage his kingdom.

When I’m talking about power, I’m not necessarily equating that with all of the money that flows through college athletics.  But, of course, a lot of money does pump through the veins of college sports and, I’m sure, does a lot to corrupt the morals of many involved.  There’s no denying that.  But no matter how much money is involved, or how big the personalities are, the same old cliche’ applies: absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Apparently it was no different for Paterno and it’s no different where other power structures exist.

Penn State is going to get hammered.  Whether by the NCAA, Congress, or whatever other means, Penn State will take a major hit over this.  Some of the hit will be appropriate and some of it may not.  So beware.  What happened at Penn State can happen anywhere.  We’ve now been warned.