Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday's Child Has Got to Go -- Saturday's Adults Even More So

Corrupt is a verb as well as an adjective. That's the thought that keeps returning every time I think of Pennsylvania State University. What's destroying that school and the sport of college football isn't that college football is corrupt, but that it actively corrupts the people in it.

The RVs are lurching into the Beaver Stadium parking lots around now. Kickoff against Nebraska is at noon. The fans, alumni, students, hangers-on and media will be there 100,000 strong for what's going to be the Woodstock of social awkwardness. Imagine all the tailgaters. What on earth will they say to each other?

In the end, sports exist so that people can have fun. I sure wouldn't want to know anyone who could have fun at the Penn State game today, and I'm also sure almost all of them won't. They're just football fans, not cult members. So why are they there?

Those 100,000 are there because in a very small way, one so small and slow it's understandable they don't see or feel it, college football is corrupting them just as it ate the soul of their former hero, role model, and quasi-religious idol Joe Paterno. They're there because they can't imagine their lives without Penn State football. Multiply that sentiment by googolplex, and you have the mindset that led Paterno, who spent most of his life trying to do what he felt was right, to become at best a moral idiot and at worst a monster.

Representatives from the U.S. Dept. of Education will be on hand, but they won't be watching the game. I'd bet that officials of the Dept. of Justice are somewhere on campus, too. A lifetime of journalism experience and the ability to read a timeline tell me that much more horrible news is going to emanate from State College, Pa., worse than we know now, and what we know now is more than awful enough. The only way the events of Jerry Sandusky's career at Penn State make sense is if the football program had been covering up his sex abuse of children for much longer than the nine years (!!!) its indicted and unindicted officials have copped to.

Every person outside the players in the Penn State program has ruined their own lives, and a good thing, too. They deserve whatever comes their way. Hope those trips to the Outback Bowl were worth it. Paterno will spend his remaining years being deposed by hostile attorneys. Don't say that's not a harsh punishment unless it's happened to you. (It's happened to me, and I was just a witness).

It's not pleasant to see a person of accomplishment ruin his or her self. But that's what corrupting institutions do to them. Sadly but oddly, it was precisely because Penn State football thought itself above the corruption of regular old sleazy big time college ball that it completely succumbed to evil. Protecting the legend of Penn State the Virtuous, which in Paterno's mind was equal to protecting his own reputation, became a more virtuous act than actually protecting children. At a regular sleazy big school, Miami say, somebody would have had the good sense to say "hey, this could be bad for business. We better do something."

If college football isn't thinking that right now, everyone in the game from university presidents to public address announcers, then it'd be a mercy to put them all out of business. Even before this week, by far the biggest sports story in the U.S. in 2011 was the ongoing saga of how college football was rubbing the country's nose in its greed, stupidity and overall insult to the very idea of education. The frantic conference shuffles, the "scandals" at Ohio State and Miami that look like innocent outtakes from some '80s knockoff of "Animal House" today, the news that bowl games exist to allow Sun Belt hustlers to enrich themselves at the expense of athletic departments -- all those tales told a single saga. Here is an institution that's out of control. Here is an institution too sick to help itself.

As we now know, college football is an institution that can turn otherwise normal folks into monsters. Who needs an institution like that?

A sport that turns normal people into evil ones. A sport that turns smart people into really stupid ones. A sport that mocks the principles of the schools that have made it their master and cheats the men who play it. Some fun, huh?

At dozens of other FBS school stadiums today, fans will be firing up their tailgate grills without a care in the world besides their teams' defensive backfields. They'll be having fun. From the drunkest freshman to the oldest alum, close to 100 percent of them will be nice, normal folks who deserve the fun they get from college football. Close to 100 percent of them are horrified and sickened by the Penn State news, and wish with all their hearts there wasn't so much rot at the core of the sport they love.

And every time these nice normal people pull into the stadium parking lot, the rot grows a little larger and more malignant. I wish I could say that 2011 will go down in sports history as the year college football realized it was destroying itself. But I know better.

College football has a lot of self-destruction left to go. 2011 will go down as the year people really began to notice.


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