One of the most interesting class discussions for me this semester was after the Penn State scandal. As someone who is completely submerged in the sports world at just about all times, I enjoyed taking in other people’s opinions, but also looking at it through a media perspective. The scandal itself was terrible. Anyone would agree it was an incredibly sad day when the news broke about Jerry Sandusky molesting young boys. The thing is I believe that in some ways the media and our responses to the news only made it worse. I watched most of the scandal unravel on ESPN… mostly because I’m slightly obsessed (my roommates will tell you, you can always tell when I was the last one watching TV because it’s always on ESPN).
The more I watched, the more I realized we were all focused on the wrong thing. I understand that it’s ESPN’s job to focus on the sports aspect of what they report, they are Entertainment and Sports Programming Network after all. And I do believe they did a great job covering the story. Stuart Scott tweeted after their 3 and a half hour SportsCenter that day, that the whole thing was completely unscripted. Amazing. Impressive. They covered every angle of the story.
The problem for me came days later when I realized I had watched hours of the PSU news, and could hardly remember hearing Jerry Sandusky’s name. I did however hear Joe Paterno’s name repeatedly- what felt like every other sentence. The importance didn’t seem to lie on the real issue. The main focus seemed to be, how would the PSU football team move on? Would Joe Pa coach Saturday? Will this forever taint Joe Pa’s legacy? In other words, Joe Pa was made out to be the villain of this scandal. Even he admits now that he should have done more, but really? A man spends years and years molesting young boys, and we care to focus more on Joe Paterno losing his job for hiding it? Joe Pa was right by saying he didn’t do enough. Legally, he was correct but morally, far off. (see Mark 8:36- “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”). Joe Paterno being fired was huge. A moment that will always be remembered in sports history. It needed to be covered, without a doubt. But focusing on that, rather than Sandusky posed some problems, especially for the casual viewer/listener.
For example, it seemed like everyone was talking about the PSU scandal for weeks. I wish I would have kept track of the actual numbers, but you would be blown away by how many people I talked to that honestly thought it was Joe Paterno who molested the young boys. I am in no way putting the blame solely on the media, but also how we as a country reacted to it. The social media outlash, the student riots… they all put the focus on football first.
Matt Millen, a Penn State alum and Joe Pa protégé said this: “This is more than a program. This is more than a football legacy. This is about people. And if we can’t protect our kids, we as a society are pathetic. And so, that’s where I stand on it.”
What it comes down to is that it seems our country cared more about the loss of a football coach than the protection of innocent children. And that is disappointing.