Penn States tragedy should serve as a warning
I have a good friend who I text back and forth with, practically on a daily basis, making a variety of silly and marginally inappropriate jokes about current sports stories.
To date, neither one of us has attempted to broach any aspect of the Penn State scandal in this format, forming an unspoken agreement that making light of virtually anything about this situation crosses most lines of decency.
In that respect, the Penn State scandal is unique because there is only one side. Unless you are a member of one of the guilty individual's families or a particularly delusional Penn State alumni member, you're on the same side of the ledger and you should be. What happened is one of the most horrific scenarios imaginable and everyone involved deserves severe punishment.
Earlier this week, the official punishments for the football program were handed down by the NCAA and, because there are hundreds of hours of sports television and radio to fill, there has been debate on severity of these punishments, which included a $60 million fine, loss of scholarships, vacating of a large percentage of wins under head coach Joe Paterno and a four-year postseason ban among others.
To me, the football-related punishments were irrelevant. When something that heinous occurs under an institution's watch, you take whatever is handed down to you and accept it. The fine, which will presumably be given to charities, acts as some form of restitution to help current and future victims of similar crimes to those perpetrated by Penn State officials while the vacating of wins is a symbolic punishment against the scandal's most high-profile individual Paterno.
The other penalties, which could bury the Nittany Lions' football program for a decade, if not longer, seem to be punishing the culture that the university allowed to exist, where the football program and its highest ranking officials were so powerful and blindly revered that the importance of maintaining the program's image and the buckets of cash that it brought in superseded anything else.
Hopefully a warning will be sent to other institutions where a similar culture exists, if not even moreso, but, unfortunately, I doubt it will instigate much of a change.
We live in an era where sports, and the money that is involved with them, has set up a bizarre and unhealthy power structure in many instances.
Whether it's college football in the south and a handful of other hotbeds in the country, men's basketball in places like Kentucky and Indiana, women's basketball in Connecticut or soccer in pretty much the rest of the world, sports, and those figures who are intimately involved with the teams and programs are often propped up to dangerous degrees.
And, as a native Oregonian, I'm glad that we're not quite there yet in this part of the country.
Don't get me wrong, we still give far too much power to our own college football programs, particularly my alma mater Oregon now that the Ducks have recently started to sniff elite status. The money that the program brings in and the prominence it has achieved is dangerous territory to be sure.
I believe that we're at a crossroads in the Northwest. Our fanaticism and blind loyalty to key sports fixtures is not currently on the level that is in other parts of the country. I would like to believe that, a scandal of Penn State's magnitude is far less likely to occur in Eugene or Corvallis because the football programs have not reached a level where protecting a name or a brand would ever be considered as an alternative to basic human decency. Maybe I'm wrong.
And it needs to stay that way or even correct in the opposite direction.
The general consensus is that, ultimately, Penn State's punishment will change very little in the football world. I agree with that sentiment but, from what I've seen on a local level, I still have a twinge of optimism.
I know that, as crazy as we can get about high school football in Oregon, it still pales in comparison to what the sport has become in places like Texas. And that's a good thing.
While football is still the top dog among high school sports in terms of revenue, popularity and notoriety, I believe it is still kept in some semblance of perspective here.
If anything, I have seen a slight shift in the last few years with coaches and parents clamoring for players to be involved in programs where fun is still a high priority and where athletes are encouraged to participate in multiple activities instead of specializing.
Who's to say where things are headed as athletics in general show little sign of slowing down their speedy ascent in terms of how the emphasis we as a society place on them? But I hope that the Northwest can be a small bastion where our priorities are only moderately skewed. I hope that most of us continue to care about sports at all levels as a form of entertainment that can make us inexplicably joyful, angry and morose, but not to the point where it remotely clouds morality.