Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Sad Tale of Not-So-Happy Valley

The irony, I'm sure, was lost on the out-of-breath sportscaster who during the close-to-hysteria coverage of Joe Paterno's ouster by Penn State explained -- or maybe even excused -- the reaction of the close-to-rioting student body by saying that at the school, football is a religion.
I guess that makes JoePa Cardinal Law.
Because take away the locker room, the helmets, and the TV contracts and you have an eerily similar story. A brotherhood of grown boys protecting their billion-dollar industry once again at the expense of raped children.
The story is this: a young football assistant said he walked into the Penn State locker room late one night in 2002 to find Jerry Sandusky, a Penn State legend both on the field and on the sidelines and now director of a program for disadvantaged boys, raping a 10 year old boy against the shower wall. Sorry for the graphic description. Most of the news stories say he said he found him "with" the boy in the shower. Which kind of conjures pictures of them both lathering up and playing with rubber duckies. But a few accounts have told it like it is, and there's no mistaking what was going on.
The young assistant, after mulling it over for a night, told his boss, legendary football coach Joe Paterno. Who told his boss, the school's athletic director. Then apparently washed his hands of the whole thing.
I wonder how many people anywhere else in the world would walk in on a scene like that and not take some kind of immediate action?
And I wonder how many people in Paterno's position -- who by the way has said he believed the young assistant's account -- would consider the matter closed after telling his boss?
But in the glorified billion-dollar industry that is college football, the rules are different. Kind of like they were (and still are in many ways) in that other rich boys' club.
Jerry Sandusky may not have done it. And the other eight charges against him over the past 15 years that the grand jury came back with recently may not hold up. (Although having served on a grand jury, I can testify that with pedophiles, the cases that are absolutely solid are the ones you indict on and the other dozens where the witness is shakey, the dates confused, etc., get tossed aside). And all those kids and moms are just making things up. Because...not sure why.
But the bottom line is that a fella told Joe what he saw. And Joe believed him. Then did next to nothing.
And the big story, if the coverage over the past several days and tonight as Joe gets canned, is not that a powerful football man (Sandusky) can once again show that the most disgusting of crimes can be ignored if you have the right friends and wear the right uniform.
 No, the BIG story if my TV and the wire services are to be believed is that a college football coach has lost his job.
And the bizarre thing is, people are pissed off about it. The guy losing his job, not the choice of story lead.
I know people who went to Penn State. They're not stupid people, for the most part. But there is definitely some kind of disconnect between reality and the glorified fake world of college football.
Because as legendary as Paterno is and as Greek tragic as it is that he is going out in such an unhappy way, football is a money-making industry designed to line the pockets of the few while entertaining the many. Even college football. And that's all it is.
And yet somehow, while most people would express horror at the rape of children, they don't seem to understand what it has to do with this football coach. And now the damn kids and their moms are wrecking the legend of Happy Valley.
Sure, it's a story that Paterno is losing his job. The great thing about a Greek tragedy is that somehow karma will bite the "hero" on butt and that always makes for a good read.
But the bigger story is that where money, glory, fame and power are concerned, abused children are shuffled aside as an inconvenience and abusers are protected as they abuse again and again.
And maybe those Penn State students should have been rioting about that.