Columns » Max Brantley

Brantley: We are Penn State

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The independent review of the Penn State sex abuse scandal demolished the university's reputation.

The facts show football coach Joe Paterno ran the institution, not its president, athletic director or other officials. Despite certain knowledge of multiple allegations of sexual abuse by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Paterno's influence swept crimes under the rug and Sandusky continued to abuse children.

Still, many athletic supporters want to make excuses. Said many, including a former Razorback publicist on a local radio talk show last week: Paterno made a single misjudgment among a lifetime of good deeds. This was factually wrong for one thing. Paterno made serial misjudgments, including coverup of rape and dishonest testimony to a Grand Jury. I wanted to scream at the radio: "What if it had been YOUR son, you sanctimonious jock sniffer?"

Paterno said that the Sandusky case was not a football scandal. It was. Former FBI Director Louie Freeh said in his summary of the independent investigation that the Penn State coverup could be explained, in part, by "a culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."

This is where Arkansas — and everyone else devoted to big-time college sports — comes in.

Football and, less frequently, other sports, too often conquer all. We pay winning coaches such as Bobby Petrino 50 to 60 times what a tenured professor on the same campus makes. We spend fortunes to keep talented athletes with marginal academic skills qualified as gladiators. We countenance secrecy in spending of athletic millions that we'd never countenance in any other branch of government. An on-line checkbook for the Razorback Foundation? That'll be the day.

Arkansas knows sex scandals. Remember the famous "dorm incident?" Basketball players picked up a woman in a bar in 1991, had gang sex with her in the athletic dorm, then tossed her outside and locked the dorm door behind her. Police found her with a condom wedged in her vagina. The then-athletic director's early response: "Boys will be boys." The gangbang was not allowed to interfere with the basketball playoff season. Many Hog fans believed that the media's insistence on reporting the matter helped explain the Razorbacks' disappointing showing that year. The university president himself reduced the discipline handed down after the season by a campus judicial board. Hadn't the boys suffered enough?

Arkansas has been a positive symbol on occasion. Lou Holtz dumped football players involved in another sex scandal just before an Orange Bowl game that ended in a famous victory for both the Hogs and Holtz's "Do Right Rule." This year, current Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long fired winning football coach Bobby Petrino, on the brink of an anticipated glorious season, for lying to cover up an illicit affair with a department subordinate.

The "Do Right" episodes are rare. The athletic facilities arms race never ends. Money's required. That requires winning. Don't think it's not part of the equation when coaches make the call to keep or banish hormone-juiced athletes who do stupid things.

The U.S. can no more swear off its addiction to the tribalism of high-dollar competitive athletics than it can swear off its love of guns. But we can demand consequences for those who put winning above the best interests of the athletes (making them play when injured for example), children, women or the occasional pencil-necked geek of a college prof who blows the whistle on athletic department abuses. Message for the Hog talk show Paterno apologist: It was not the week to talk about all the "good" Joe Paterno did in creating this monster.

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