Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Penn State

[Content/trigger warning: Child sexual abuse, homophobia]

If you watch NCAA sports, you're probably familiar with those commercials where student-athletes say, "almost all of us are going pro in something other than sports," the point of which is to remind viewers that NCAA sports are really all about preparing student-athletes to become valuable, productive members of society.

Indeed, it is true that most NCAA athletes will not have professional careers in sports, but those commercials assume a certain naivete on the part of the viewers. We're asked to pretend that the Big Time College Sports that we're watching aren't actually a multi-million dollar business, but rather, a values-building endeavor of great import to the moral character of the US.

And yet, when we stop suspending disbelief, we notice that this message is contrasted with another recurring message in sports, not just in the NCAA, but oftentimes at all institutional levels:

"Win and you can do anything to anyone you want; you’ll be protected."

Especially if you're a superstar! (See, eg, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, and basically...this)

I don't have a lot to say about the Penn State child sexual assault/abuse/rape scandal (background reading here [TW]), but the above quote seems appropriate if university officials buried instances of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky's alleged multiple acts of child abuse/rape, at least one account of which is alleged to have occurred in a Penn State locker room, in order to protect a football program and institution.

I'm also disgusted by the Penn State students, some of whom have been violent, who've protested the Board of Trustee's decision to fire football coach Joe Paterno for his handling of the situation. Some of the quotes, seriously? (Example from one student: "It's not fair. The board is an embarrassment to our school and a disservice to the student population.").

I get that people are really into having Their Team and Their School and all that. But, like, take the football-centric goggles off for a second and get a little perspective. If the allegations are true, keeping instances of child rape under wraps in order to protect an institution's image is what's an embarassment to your school, dudebro.

The above "win and you can do anything" quote, by the way, is a take-away message from Training Rules- a film about former Penn State coach Renee Portland.

Portland, if you remember, is a Legendary Basketball Coach who had a "no lesbians" policy on the teams she coached. She acknowledged her discriminatory policy in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1986, and went on to coach at Penn State for another 21 years. In 2006, a former player filed a lawsuit against Portland and Penn State, and an internal investigation finally found that she created "a hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment" on the basis of sexual orientation.

For this, Penn State suspended her for one game and fined her $10,000. Portland ultimately resigned, with Penn State's athletic director claiming that she wasn't forced out of her position.

Of course not.

Win and you can do anything you want. You'll be protected.

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