'Culture of reverence'

Saturday July 14, 2012

The "culture of reverence" for the Penn State football program that enabled assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to get away with abusing young boys for years is not unique to Penn State. It’s certainly not unique to athletic programs either. Any organization placed on a pedestal where it is beyond criticism and even the law is in danger of being brought down to earth with painful consequences.

The report issued Thursday by former FBI Director Louis Freeh pilloried the entire Penn State community, from the university president and athletic director and board of trustees right down to a janitor who said he was afraid to report that he saw Mr. Sandusky showering with a boy. The football program and its head coach Joe Paterno, who was also complicit, were so revered that a long series of Sandusky’s victims were sacrificed on their altar.

A similar culture of reverence in the Catholic Church in the United States and several other countries enabled pedophile priests to ruin the lives of children for decades. The church hierarchy covered up the crimes, as did the Penn State hierarchy, and made matters worse by attacking critics as anti-Catholic. The church is trying to come up to grips with the problem now, but denial and cover-up amplified the original damage done by the rogue priests.

There are major universities all over America where the culture of reverence for the football or basketball programs has corrupted their academic mission, producing cuts in teaching budgets and student aid while practice palaces are constructed and statues built to coaches. The Sandusky scandal should provide them an education in perspective -- one that should be learned by all powerful institutions.


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