Why we hate sports scandals

painterlad's picture
November 11, 2011 at 6:00p

A few years ago, USC was hit with major penalties for improper benefits. Within, the last 12 months, Ohio State, North Carolina, LSU, Texas, Boise St., Auburn, Miami and Oregon have all come under that watchful eye of the NCAA.  It has been a lousy year for college football.

And now there is this Penn St. thing. I use the term”thing” because thing is used to describe something that is not easily identified. “There is this thing growing on the side of my tree. This thing in my engine is making a racket when I accelerate. There is something out in the barn.”

How do you accurately put into words a pedophile being allowed unfettered access to troubled boys? How do you describe, in detail, what he is accused of doing? How do you talk about certain rumors popping up involving these boys and other members of the university? A missing district attorney? Men walking away while boys are being raped in the shower?

This is so much more repulsive than players getting paid money or cheating on term papers or recruits being shown a good time by willing females. This is about the darkest nature of man. It is about serious and heinous crimes being committed against children. It is something that repulses anyone regardless of age, sex or status. It is a gross, disgusting story.

As I have sat for the last two days digesting all of this, my team (Ohio State) has been declared guilty by the NCAA of having failed to monitor, which is the second worst violation possible. Soon OSU will be hit by sanctions, including loss of scholarships and perhaps even a bowl ban. Next to what is happening at Penn St. it is a joke, a sign of my troubled mind that the two are even compared.

I am not seeking to compare the paltry effect of sanctions against a football powerhouse to that of the destruction of several childhoods. I am trying to compare the reaction of the fan bases.

Whenever another team gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar, you smile and think “I knew it! I knew they were cheating!” You write on message boards proclaiming how they are dirty while your team is made of nothing but angels. And then your team gets caught. Your Christian coach who has done so much for the young men on his team, for the college and for the community has been caught cheating and lying.

It stuns you. You rooted for a cheater. You beat teams with ineligible players. You are suddenly them.  And you deny and you defend until the realization of it all comes crashing down upon your head. Your coach and your team are human after all, and you are no better.

Penn St. students rallied and rioted around their disgraced ex-coach. After all, Paterno had been there since the Middle Ages and hardly a Nittany Lion fan can recall a day when JoePa wasn’t walking the sidelines. He was Penn St. football! And all that you trusted and all that you loved is covered in muck, and you feel slimmed.

Many who write upon this subject will come to the conclusion that it is our willingness to accept reality within certain confines that causes us grief when those realities are challenged or even shattered. Certainly I view Jim Tressel in a new light now that his failures have been exposed, and certainly there is a great deal of truth in saying that tumbled heroes make us question deeply held beliefs. After all, things that we cling to do not go gentle into that good night.

But I think that there is a much simpler answer. I think that when we find out our teams have cheated or have covered up crimes, it makes us sad because it has trampled upon our youth.

We recall a day when back-yard football was the best thing in the world and there was no cheating involved. No recruiting violations, no 100 dollar hand shakes. We remember running down a deep fly ball while trying to not smash into a tree. We remember basketball games played with friends using a hoop attached to a garage. We remember racing to find out who was the fastest.

It was a childhood and it was a game and the two were forever meshed into one. When we read about point shaving and cheating and crimes being allowed so as to not rock the boat, we shudder because such things were never part of the games we played as kids. It cheapens what we grew to love. It makes a young boy cry out to Shoeless Joe Jackson “say it ain’t so, Joe!” Say it isn’t true that my hero playing the game I love isn’t a cheat and a scoundrel. Say that what I have made my own isn’t tarnished.

Say it isn’t so, Jim. Or Joe. Or Cam. Or Pete. Tell me it isn’t true so that the one pure thing I had as a child can survive the brutal reality of growing up. Tell me that somewhere there is someone who still plays for the love of the game. Tell me it isn’t all about the money. Tell me integrity is more important than the final score. Tell me quick before the last playground of my youth is torn down to make way for a parking lot. Tell me before I can no longer recall the smell of a new glove or the feel of a football as it hits my fingers and I haul it in for a catch.

Tell me before the sunlight fades and all I have left is the darkness of adult cynicism.

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Buck_Michigan's picture

Excellent read...it made me ponder things that I held so highly and was disappointed when I found out that not all was at it seems....but none of that matters as much as these kids that were stripped of innocence without choice and sadly without the help of any coach on the Penn St football team.  Shame on you Penn St...we will not forget your sins.

2012 Beat Michigan Tail gate:  UFM:  "Let’s beat the sh*t out of Michigan, have a good night."

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

You wonder how long the "scandals" have been going on. Let's not forget, stories about anything a player does now will spread like wildfire, but 15-20 years ago many of these stories made local news papers and went no further. Amazing how things change with the times.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

RBuck's picture

There has always been sports scandals; there hasn't always been 24-7 news coverage by thousands of media outlets. Then you throw in the internet and the whole world is discussing the subject in a matter of minutes.

I grew up in the 50's and 60's and back then no one knew about the dirty side of sports. If the local reporters knew, the stories probably died with them.

Long live the southend.

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I'll be honest, I chuckled when USC got slapped with probation. Then it seemed like school after school getting hit with something. At some point you begin to wonder why is this all happening? Is the media doing this for ratings? Is ESPiN turning into TMZ? It appears that way at times. 

The generation of instant information may not be good for college football. I'd rather spend time talking about wins and losses than "scandals".

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

painterlad's picture

Sports scandals are of course nothing new. And yes, we just hear about them more now, but there is still something that sucks at the core of your fandom when it is a team you cherish.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

Marshall's picture

This is a tough exercise in compare/contrast between the nature of scandals.  I will still laugh when the Auburns and Alabamas of the world get caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  But the Penn State scandal isn't about violations of the club rules, as those with Auburn or Alabama, with the inevitable accompanying arguments decrying the breach of integrity and degradation of sports society going on over at the other schools at the same time that we ourselves go on ebay to get merch that's been autographed by our favorite players.  The Penn State scandal, on the other hand, is about child rape and a subsequent shocking, revolting breakdown in leadership and accountability.  So the little games that programs play with the NCAA rules are just that:  fun and games.  Every reader also knows the following:  the Penn State stuff is not a game, and not fun for anybody.  NCAA violations are exclusive to sports teams.  Penn State's stuff can happen anywhere, particularly among people who are more interested in protecting their organizations than protecting people--it's the abu Ghraib of sports.  I think I will always have another seed of doubt in my head if I trust my kids to stay overnight at some other kid's house because of this.

The sad, horrific irony is that the same time the full scope of nastiness at Penn State was being exposed, it was Ohio State getting tagged for "failure to monitor."  Penn State still doesn't have a single NCAA violation to be found, and yet, if there was ever an instance in the history of sports where there was a clear "failure to monitor," Joe Paterno lived it.  I don't ever want to hear any moral relativism that draws comparisons between Tressel and Paterno, or equates the two men, because there isn't a reasonable comparison, and the actions of the two will never be in the same galaxy with each other.  One broke the NCAA boys club rules, the other presided over and enabled a climate where the devil incarnate had free run with children in the showers of the Penn State locker room.

So to summarize my rambling:  I still thought there was some degree of innocence left in college football, even with USC, OSU, Auburn, etc..  The stuff with Tressel only hurt my view of high-dollar major college sports.  The stuff with Paterno hurts my view of mankind altogether.

2002 graduate of The Ohio State University
National champs.  Coincidence?

painterlad's picture


To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

doodah_man's picture

Stop looking for guidance in sports. Find leadership, integrity, intelligence, honesty, and values somewhere else. If you are looking from something more than a game, you are wasting your time. 

Jim "DooDah" Day

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” --Wilbur Wright, 1910

painterlad's picture

I'm not making sports my moral compass. I just wish that somewhere someone would leave my childhood memories alone and let me live in a fantasy world where sports is just about playing a game and having fun.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.