The Penn State football sex scandal, and the depraved response of the university community at all levels, tells whatever you need to know about the spiritual condition of this floundering, rudderless, republic and its ignoble culture.
For nine years, head coach Joe Paterno covered up a grad student’s report of having witnessed former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky anally raping a ten-year-old boy in the athletic department’s shower room. The grad student, Mike McQueary, didn’t bother to call the police. He was later hired as Paterno’s defensive coordinator. Two other Penn State administrators were informed about the rape and let the incident slide, after which Sandusky went on to a lively career in serial child homosexual rape. For many years after the witnessed incident, he was permitted regular access to Penn State’s gyms, fields, and locker rooms, while cherry-picking victims from his own foundation, Second Mile, for needy children.
The intersection of America’s fake warrior culture of football with the nation’s fake moral and ethical culture is instructive. It has many levels, like a convoluted freeway intersection of on-ramps, off-ramps, and merge-ramps.
First is the pretense that college football is a character-building endeavor. Rather it’s an odious money-grubbing racket that chews up and spits out quasi-professional players who, with rare exceptions, only pretend to be students. It corrupts everyone connected with it. College football is little more than a giant conduit for vacuuming money out of alumni, hawking brand merchandise, and generating TV revenues. At Penn State, the racket sucked in about $70 million a year net profit. All over America, the old land-grant diploma mills pay their coaches million-dollar salaries, while academic adjunct professors can’t even get health insurance. At SUNY-Albany, the flagship campus of New York’s system, they got rid of the department of foreign languages, but the football team plays on. Meanwhile ordinary students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in unpayable college debt via a related racket in which free-flowing government-backed Sallie Mae loan money prompts colleges to boost tuition rates way beyond inflation rates.
Then there is the merge-ramp between religion and football. Was I the only person revolted by video of the phony “prayer” session held in the Penn State stadium just before Saturday’s “big game” with the University of Nebraska? Players from both teams led by Jesus-shouting cheerleaders affected to “pray” for Jerry Sandusky’s rape victims, an exercise that was joined and legitimized by the crowd with all the passion of a Nuremberg rally. When that easy little ritual was out of the way they could settle back and enjoy the game’s ersatz heroics with a clear conscience, and the tailgate barbeques that followed. A genuine sense of collective shame would have produced a different course of events – for instance cancelling the game, maybe the rest of the season, or perhaps even the entire football program in plain recognition of how foul and corrupt it is. That decision would have been up to the university’s board of trustees and tells you all you need to know about corporate leadership in America today.
Perhaps even more disgusting than the pre-game prayer show was the rash of demonstrations the night the story broke. These weren’t about shame and repentance, just violent displays of sanctimonious “moral” support for an entire system in disgrace. Do you suppose these people could not have endured a night or two of uncomfortable silent reflection. And why didn’t the new president, or any other campus executive, make a pubic statement that all the prideful carrying-on was indecent? I wonder how many of the same students will be ground down to dust by the weight of their unpayable college loans.
Equally disgusting was the cable news media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Penn State story, as if there weren’t other important events going on in the world – for instance the resignation of two European prime ministers due to a political crisis that could sink the global economic system. CNN turned the Penn State story into an instant reality-TV show, with play-by-play action and spin-o-rama scenario-flogging aimed mainly, it seemed, at how Coach Joe Paterno might manage to wiggle out of culpability in the civil lawsuits that are sure to dog him now until the end of his days.
What the public doesn’t know is how soon the sun will be setting on these giant universities in their entirety – football, classrooms, alumni golden circles, and all – as we enter the age of intense energy and capital scarcities. Remember: institutions, just like living organisms, often reach their greatest scale just before they go extinct. Resource constraints would be enough to get the job done, but it’s interesting to see how our programming failures and internal moral contradictions have reached the last limits of flamboyant grotesquerie in the same exact moment.
This is a nation with psychological boundary problems in every realm – the family, the school, the government, the corporation, the diocese, the police station, you name it. Meanwhile the so-called fine arts branch of our culture valorizes “transgressive” behavior – as if there were any behavioral boundaries left to cross. Maybe Jerry Sandusky should be sentenced to a one-man show at the Whitney Museum. Then just wait a week or so: we’ll get Jeffrey Dahmer, the Musical on Broadway.
Every new day that dawns lately gives further proof that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished.
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