Sunday, July 15, 2012

Problem Not Football at Penn State

By Meg Curtis, PhD

Penn State cannot lose its football program—even temporarily—and remain the same institution. Maybe that is the hope and prayer of zealous reformers, but reform is one goal, and temporary insanity is a different monstrosity altogether.

Let’s be honest about the scandal: Football did not bring shame to this university. Obsession did; idolatry did—and fear, fear that what’s happened would happen, and it has happened. The glory of JoePa University has bowed in tears.

Has Penn State “suffered enough,” to quote President Ford on Nixon, who also sacrificed all the good he could do to paranoia? Has humiliation run its course, much longer than any football field, for both boys and men?

Ford’s words ring cruelly upon this occasion when justice is hard to determine. As President Ford justified his pardon of Nixon, he addressed these solemn words to his countrymen and women:

Finally, I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough and will continue to suffer, no matter what I do, no matter what we, as a great and good nation, can do together to make his goal of peace come true.

Is it truly surprising that fear mingles with greatness; that good marries evil, too, in human nature? This nation learned that tragic lesson in the seventies with Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, if not before.  

The fear of university leaders may strike us as odd, given their power and privilege. Nevertheless, JoePa, that English major from Brown, might be the first to remind us:

        For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
           Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (Sonnet 94, ll. 13-14)

The very next sonnet in Shakespeare’s famous sequence poses this prophetic warning, too, for reformers too quick to cut at football:

        Take heed (dear heart) of this large privilege;
            The hardest knife ill-used doth lose his edge. (Sonnet 95, ll. 13-14)

Football never cornered a single boy in any shower. Football never promised more than it could deliver: a bruising chance to learn teamwork and a competitive spirit. The irony of JoePa was that he learned Shakespeare, too. That legacy stands. The most rueful element in the whole tragedy is that it might have been composed by the Bard himself.  

For further reading, please see:

Berube, Michael. Paterno Family Professor in Literature and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. “At Penn State, a Bitter Reckoning.” The New York Times. 17 November 2011. < /2011/11/18/opinion/at-penn-state-a-bitter-reckoning.html>.

“Ford Pardons Nixon: Address to the Nation.” The Scandal That Brought Down Richard Nixon. <>.

Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. <>.

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