Remember what happened at Penn State University last November?
A medical school researcher discovered a possible cure for cancer.
Oh, but that’s not the earth-rocking event many may recall. It’s the Jerry Sandusky case. And for those of us outside the fallout radius of Penn State’s alleged sins, we ask: “How could this happen?”
Those answers will continue to play out in Pennsylvania courtrooms for the foreseeable future. Late coach Joe Paterno’s legacy is wrecked, and the university is dealing with lawsuits and shame. More significant, innumerable lives have been impacted by Sandusky’s assaults on children and the lack of response to stop them. President Graham Spanier, Papa Joe and the administration were idolized and believed to be of the highest integrity.
But they bowed to the pressure and placed both winning and the reputation of Penn State ahead of all else, including the lives of Sandusky’s victims and potential victims. It’s ironic that their actions to protect their institution’s reputation did more to harm it than anything in the school’s history.
The more relevant question for us is, “Could it happen here?” in Alabama. Our gut reaction is of course not. But sometimes we, as Alabamians, as Southerners, as Americans, put our college football heroes on too high a pedestal.
Our university and school leaders are of high moral fiber. We know them and their families and have seen their character on display countless times.
If we think it through, though, we recognize that we have just watched those at Penn State make the same defenses, and they look pitiful.
At the very least, we have to acknowledge that we tend to idolize football coaches. Bear Bryant, Pat Dye — at least their legends are secure. But both Auburn and Alabama have current coaches with national titles on their resumes. Their sway is significant.
As fans and supporters, we can demand winning, but it shouldn’t be at all costs or cause us to lose our integrity. We can demand winning, but demand integrity, too.
Let’s pledge to not be so blinded with football passion that we don’t recognize our coaches for the mere mortals they are — college, high school or otherwise.
And remember this name: Craig Meyers. He’s the Penn State medical researcher.
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