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Steinberg: Several lessons to be learned from Penn State scandal

July 14, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

Former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded one of the most horrifying investigations in the history of collegiate sports this week.

In the wake of years of sexual abuse of young men by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky of Penn State, often in the shower room and facilities of the football program, Freeh documented a concerted cover-up effort to prevent the truth from coming out and allowing the abuse to continue.

Edmund Burke once wrote: "In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing."

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Freeh's damning report referred to a pervasive and damaging culture at Penn State where the nexus of power was concentrated in four men: Penn State former president Graham Spanier, football head coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schulz. Their repetitive failure to act when presented with troubling allegations against Sandusky was motivated by one goal: to avoid the consequences of bad publicity.

These men had opportunity after opportunity to stop the abuse and displayed not the slightest concern for the shattered lives of the young at-risk victims.

What is the rationale for having collegiate sports programs?

How did "the image of Penn State sports" become a higher value than protecting innocent victims?

Sports can provide an invaluable experience for the inculcation of positive life values. Athletes can learn the value of self-discipline, eschewing present gratification in order to achieve a long-term goal, teamwork, elevation of performance under adverse circumstances.

The teaching and mentoring of talented coaches can set the foundation for an athlete's moral center and success in life. Paterno spent years preaching these values. He provided critical life lessons for generations of Penn State footballers. This was the program where player's names were not emblazoned on the back of uniforms, where the value of education was stressed, where classy behavior was the norm. But the football program and Joe were deified and granted unchecked power and were able to create a culture that had no behavioral checks and balances.

Sandusky was a gifted and beloved defensive coordinator still in the prime of his career when he suddenly resigned. What did the four men in power know about him and not reveal? Reports of his misbehavior surfaced since 1998, but he was allowed to return to campus, keep an office and use the facilities of Penn State as a "raping" ground. Freeh asserts that these four men knew and covered it up.

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