Perhaps concerned that Penn State's status as a national monument to sports-inspired mass delusion was not completely secure, more than 200 former football players recently petitioned university officials to reerect a bronze likeness of tarnished coaching legend Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium, which was removed four years ago as a sexual-abuse scandal shook State College. Then, just a week after this latest attempt to rewrite Penn State's modern history, a Philadelphia judge unsealed reports that convicted child predator and longtime Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused children there - and that Paterno and other coaches knew about it - as long ago as the Ford administration.
Filed in a dispute between Penn State and its insurer over responsibility for $93 million in sexual-abuse settlements - and unsealed at the urging of the Inquirer and other news organizations - the accounts were given under oath but not tested in court. Nevertheless, they fit an unmistakable pattern of serial crimes and willful institutional ignorance. The fierce rearguard effort to rehabilitate Paterno to gridiron godhood springs from the same misguided impulse to glorify a football program at every expense.
Penn State's Happy Valley fever is an extreme example of the affliction but not a unique one. Consider Temple University's headlong bid to construct a $130 million football stadium even as executives were accruing a $22 million shortfall in merit-based financial aid. Last week, Temple's trustees voted to hike tuition while delving deeper into stadium preparations, bringing their investment so far to $1.5 million. Under president Neil Theobald, whose job has been jeopardized by the financial-aid shortfall, Temple has seemed determined to seize more of the perceived benefits of big-time sports regardless of the costs.
Nor can runaway sports idolatry be separated from the Penn State scandal despite the best efforts of apologists. According to the newly revealed testimony, one 14-year-old reported an assault to Paterno in 1976 only to be to told, "I have a football season to worry about." While the late coach said he knew of no sexual abuse, the testimony details habitual molestation spanning the decades since, some of it witnessed by other coaches and employees. The newly unsealed records also show that former graduate assistant Mike McQueary, whose account of a 2001 assault was crucial to the criminal case against Sandusky, testified that other coaches had long been aware of the abuse.
The lettermen who want to restore Paterno's grinning graven image to its former place of honor are not alone in drawing precisely the wrong conclusions from such revelations. As the Inquirer reported last week, some trustees now demand to know whether Penn State and its lawyers were too hasty and generous in settling with victims rather than challenging their stories more aggressively. Given a 45-count conviction for defilement of 10 children over 15 years and a pattern of abuse that apparently goes well beyond it, Penn State officials would do better to focus their questions on the university rather than the victims.