Sports should be a time for fans to relax and enjoy the thrill and excitement of athletic competition. Isn’t that what we want sports to be — a time to root, root, root for the home team?
However, rather than give fans a respite from the travails of life, sports all too often mirror life and all the troubles the world has to offer.
Two of the most highly respected and successful head coaches in major college football, Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno, lost their jobs because of various scandals. Tressel’s fall from grace was the more conventional coverup of an attempt to get a competitive edge in recruiting. Paterno’s goes far beyond that.
The reaction of fans is interesting in itself. Some fans are outraged. Others are in denial. Still others choose to blame the media for uncovering the story.
Whenever someone is caught in an indiscretion or uses bad judgment, people try to sweep the dirt under the rug or justify it by saying, “Everyone does it. Coach (fill in the blank) just happened to get caught.”
The problem in the Penn State case is that an assistant coach who was apparently caught committing a serious sex crime against a young boy, wasn’t stopped even though his actions were witnessed by another person.
For those who think humankind is getting better and learning from past mistakes, this is an all too painful reminder that nothing could be further from the truth.
From the time of King David’s scandal and coverup in Bible times to modern atrocities, not much has changed. If King David wasn’t able to escape judgment before the days of investigative reporters, 24-hour news coverage, Facebook and Twitter, what makes people think they can run and hide today?
Ivan Maisel writes on ESPN.com, “The idea that Paterno’s legacy, built with the highest of ideals, will be stained by the vilest of scandals should test the faith of all of us. It is simple and glib to say that American sport’s most famous white socks covered feet of clay. But if we cannot believe that JoePa knew to do what is good and right, than in whom, pray tell, can we believe?”
Of course, the truth is we all have blind spots. We don’t always do what we should, and sometimes we do what we shouldn’t. Maybe you and I wouldn’t do what the assistant coach is purported to have done, but there are likely other areas in life where we are susceptible to failure.
As things unraveled in Happy Valley, Paterno and others at Penn State paid a price, but those mistreated young boys have suffered far more. To say that life isn’t fair seems like an understatement.
It’s not easy to fire a coach who wins 409 games, more than any other coach in Division I college football history.
It’s not easy to fire a coach whose family donated more than $4 million to the university, helping fund scholarships, faculty positions and the construction of a library that bears his name.
It’s not easy to fire a coach who was never accused by the NCAA of breaking its rules in 46 seasons, and whose players seemingly always graduated.
Nevertheless, in the end, Penn State’s Board of Trustees fired legendary coach Joe Paterno because it didn’t have a choice. It turns out that decisions or indecisions made in the arena of life have more weight than accomplishments in a football stadium.
It’s easy to point fingers and assign blame, but the real lesson is that all of us are capable of bad judgment. And that, my friends, should keep all of us very humble.