My brain knows what to make of this. It is cold and rational. It is able to separate the feelings I've had since I first became a college football fan from the harsh, horrifying realities that have recently come to light at Penn State. Objectively, it knows the decision to fire the winningest coach in college football and the president of Pennsylvania State University was the right one. It knows further punishment is warranted. In my brain, there is no debate about that.
But my heart.... my heart feels like it's been ripped apart by a hundred horses thundering in different directions.
The brutal reality of what has occurred has shattered what and who we believed were right and just. Further it has exposed the premise of our ascending evolution as species to be a bald-faced lie. The cruelty of what happened is horrific to everyone, no matter where or what culture you come from anywhere on this planet. The fact that it happened simply reminds us that we might as well have just crawled out of the swamps or out from under a rock a generation ago. Worse, the fact that it happened, and that supposedly good men and women did nothing to stop it shatters any vestige of our remaining illusions.
There are no heroes. There are only victims and survivors. And it's a gift or curse of divine lottery that separates you into one of those categories.
I honestly cannot recall a worse college football off-season and regular season than 2011. The Pony Express doesn't even register on this Richter Scale. Before this I thought the worst thing in college sports was the out of control Barry Switzer Oklahoma teams or the tragedy of the killing of a Baylor Basketball player by one of his teammates or the unnecessary death of Len Bias. They pale in comparison.
So much of what we thought was right, wasn't. No matter your allegiance, the news out of Miami this summer had to make you stomach turn. Then there were the investigations at Auburn and Oregon, the two national title game participants. Of course, the Ohio State fiasco. Now this.
On a personal level, this is harder to deal with. Paterno seemed to be all that was right with college sports. He seemed to be a man of integrity. You don't last as long as he had without doing something right, at least that's what I told myself. I've met the man. I've interviewed him. I've seen him doodle plays on a coffee table. He makes "pisan" jokes at the Big Ten media luncheon about Bo Pelini, and talks with reporters and people alike like they are the only person in the room. He seemed so..... right.
College football, for all its flaws, appeared pure between the lines. Once the the clock started and the ball met the kicker's foot, it was simply a pure escape. Now this. I look at it differently. I think of the summer camps that young children are so excited to attend, to play, to make new friends, to learn the sport better so they can excel at it. Now this. Sport was once a pure enterprise. Now the coaches and heroes that we entrusted to teach them, to keep them safe, have done the opposite. And they have used the sports we and our children love as a means to exploit and abuse them.
As the details of the horror story in State College continue to unfold, I become more and more nauseated. It's almost as if some poison has entered my lungs, and my body is convulsing to get it out, certain that if it heaves once more the poison will be gone forever. Sadly it won't. It will hang in the air for the foreseeable future, creeping back into my body with every breath and starting the cycle all over again.
What sickens me further is that no one did anything to stop this. Not the University. Not the graduate student. Not the President. Not the legendary coach. There were no heroes here. The people that knew might as well have never existed. All that existed were monsters and victims.
It galls me that this could happen. And where it happened makes it even worse, at an institution of higher learning, with educated, successful, charitable people looking on, mute to the world around them. But then again it shouldn't surprise me that this happened, when I consider what truly goes on in our world, and what has happened this past year in college football. Nothing is sacred. And nothing made that clearer than the news out of Penn State.
As children we are taught that when the moment arises, you will know what to do. You are taught that if you are a good person, you will do the right thing. Good people will do the right thing. That there will be a hero that stands up for what is just and right. The reality, it turns out, it so much different, and worse, than we could ever have imagined.
Heroes exist only in stories and fairy tales. Sadly, in this wretched story there are no heroes. Only victims and survivors. Pray for both.