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The priorities of sports in the wake of the Penn State scandal

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By Brandon Niles

I am a massive sports fan. I love sports. I watch football like it’s my life’s calling. I’m moved almost to tears by the threat of losing the NBA season. I beam with pride while following the Olympics. I watch games, I root for teams, and I bury myself in statistics purely for the sake of interest and to fuel my obsession.

I don’t remember my first kiss and I hardly recall homecoming in high school, but I remember the day that Barry Sanders unexpectedly retired. Sports play a significant role in my life.

I don’t think I’m unique. As I watch the games on television, I’m struck by the passion that fills each stadium. I see pride in sports teams shown on car windows, clothing and home accessories all around me. I even see sports as a form of artistic expression, and I stand up against those who belittle athletics as something of value.

Recently, serious and horrific allegations of sexual misconduct involving young boys by former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerald Sandusky arose. The official grand jury report reads like a terrifying CSI episode or a disturbing crime novel. In the wake of these allegations, long-time head coach Joe Paterno was fired from his position amid the scandal.

The grand jury has yet to find Paterno guilty of any wrongdoing, and many people still support him. The students took to the streets in protest of the firing. However, the disturbing thing about the Paterno firing is not that this is perhaps the biggest and worst scandal to hit the sports world. The disturbing thing isn’t that Paterno’s legacy as one of the most revered coaches in college football will be forever altered. The disturbing thing is that amidst all these allegations of horrific misconduct, the focus has been on Paterno at all.

This isn’t about whether or not he should’ve been fired. My point is that we lovers of sports who obsess over wins and statistics and legacies and the integrity of the game and other things associated with athletics tend to lose sight of the important things. Sometimes it’s the fans that lose sight; sometimes it’s the media fueling this blurring of perspective. Most of the time, it’s both.

We shouldn’t be focused on Paterno’s legacy at all. Instead, we should take the time to reflect on the fact that this story, this crime, is not about sports. It’s not about legacies and wins and the integrity of a football program. This story is about terrible things that have allegedly been done to at least eight victims.

This is a call to the media and to the fans that are arguing over the legacy of Joe Paterno. We all love sports, but this is a time to be somberly horrified and to be concerned over the welfare of all victims of these alleged crimes. I’m saddened by the misdirection this story has taken and of attention being given to careers and to football in the wake of such crimes. Take a moment to remember that Penn State football will continue to be Penn State football when all is said and done. In the meantime, we should all somberly await the outcome of these charges and just hope that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.

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