Can Anything Good Possibly Come Out of the Penn State Scandal?

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A panel of sports fans comes to terms with the revelations of the past week—and prepares for more

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Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Emma Carmichael (writer, Deadspin) talk about the alleged sexual abuse by a Penn State football coach—and the university's apparent attempt to cover it up.


Hey, guys,

Sportswriters are generally spared the horrific side of humanity that cops beat reporters or war correspondents see on a regular basis. But this week's scandal at Penn State is almost too grotesque to comprehend. Longtime defensive coach Jerry Sandusky has been accused of sexually assaulting prepubescent boys. A gaggle of superiors, some of whom allegedly knew about Sandusky's misconduct as early as 1998, worked diligently to look the other way. A graduate assistant says he saw Sandusky raping a young boy in the shower, and instead of running in there and stopping it, he goes home and calls his father for guidance (hint: maybe you don't abandon a defenseless child). An athletic director, school administrator and university president fail to report the rape to the police or even launch their own investigation. And Joe Paterno, longtime coach and embodiment of Penn State's football program (and frankly the school itself), fulfills his legal obligations by telling his superiors about it but does nothing else, an unquestionable and inexcusable moral failure.

I'm not sure how much more there is to say about the issue itself that hasn't already been said in the press. But perhaps some good can come of this tragic situation. Big-time college programs are an insular lot, imbued with a culture of loyalty like an old-boys-club at a suburban golf course. They use "recruiting hostesses" to lure high school prospects and often ply them with alcohol and strippers, all with the implicit support of the program. When misconduct occurs, like at Iowa orColorado, or Notre Dame, the common response is for athletic and school officials to do their damndest to cover it up, then make a phony hue and cry if the tawdry events ever come to light. Perhaps the horror and breadth of Penn State's moral turpitude will be a wake-up-call to the public and a cautionary tale for administrators thinking about sweeping misconduct under the rug. Perhaps not. But one can hope.

Thoughts, Hampton? Do you hold out hope that something positive can emerge from this?

–Jake

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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