Penn State rioters should be ashamed

November 10, 2011|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

Where do you start?

Do you start with the accused, Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach at Penn State, who's been charged with abusing children as those at the university where he was employed did nothing?

Do you start with the alleged victims, boys as young as 8 years old, who will be scarred for as long as they live, longer even than football coach Joe Paterno's storied career?

Do you start with the coach himself, a man so revered they call him "Pa," who didn't do enough to stop it?

Or do you start with the scene last night, with Penn State students you hope are blind drunk, cheering for and rioting on behalf of a man who didn't report to police the alleged abuse of children?

Maybe it's there. Maybe that's the image that shows why this story creeps everyone out so much. Maybe those students, defending their idol, have shown us that not everyone realizes how wrong this all is.

That an assistant, Mike McQueary, would allegedly see (and hear) one of the assaults in a locker room shower and not report it to police. That he would not interrupt the act or immediately run to the phone and call 911. That reportedly McQueary would ask for advice from his dad about what he should do, whether he should even tell anyone else.

When Paterno heard the story from that assistant, that he would not call the police or fire Sandusky on the spot or punch him in the stomach, but simply tell his bosses and then continue about his job. That he would look in the face of the man he had heard committed the ultimate crime and discuss zone defenses and blocking patterns.

Clearly, the idea that Paterno has crossed some obvious moral line doesn't resonate with some of the students, the ones who flipped over news satellite trucks to express their displeasure with the board's decision to fire Paterno.

The evidence is right there: Some people believe football is pretty important.

What do people say when they're criticizing Paterno's firing? It can be any number of oblique references to "not breaking the law" or "reporting to his boss" or some similar legalese. Some belief, perhaps, that this was just an attempt to get rid of the aging Paterno (oh yes, all part of the trustees' dastardly plan, I'm sure).

Others say it's not fair to point the finger at Paterno when the lion's share of the scorn should go to the alleged abuser himself. But prison is its own reward and shame will haunt Sandusky forever.

The real issue, the conundrum that we're collectively chewing over like a dog with a bone, is how this all happened. How someone who talked of honor and integrity and doing what's right even when it's difficult could not manage to live those ideals at a moment when he was directly challenged to practice what he preached.

The answer, maybe, is with the 19-year-old Penn State student who told USA Today it was "disrespectful" to fire Paterno. In her eyes, the integrity of the elderly coach came from what he had accomplished on the field in those 46 years, not what he had failed to accomplish when no one was looking.

What she was saying, disturbingly, is that those football games meant so much more than life off the field—a life spent struggling with memories of abuse, a child's life destroyed.

We're all learning that football, for some, means more than life itself.

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