As a child coming of age in the late 60’s, protests and riots were almost a daily occurence. The war in Viet Nahm consumed the news sending a lot of us at that time into the streets in protests. Some chose to protest peacefully. Others elected to take actions more violent. Either way, the youth of America, choosing to speak out at that time, was condemned by the adult populace. We were shaking up the staid world our parents lived in, somehow trying to get attention on how injust some things in the world were. We were activists, but felt our voices needed to be heard.
I contrasted that time with what I saw playing out on the streets of State College, Pennsylvania Wednesday night. The youth of America were protesting again, some violently, over a football coach being fired. The fact that the coach got what he had coming didn’t seem to make a difference. Penn State students were in the streets, some choosing to vent their frustrations on media folks gathered to report on what has become one of the worst scandals in the history of college athletics. As an adult now, and remembering how it was back when I was their age, I tried to give them every possible benefit of the doubt. But the similarity of the 60’s and Wednesday night ended with the age of the protestors.
The were protesting the firing of a football coach who, at the very least was an unwitting enabler of a former school employee charged with sexually abusing young boys. The coach, Joe Paterno happened to be the winningest coach in college football history, and also happened to be legend in State College.
I wondered where the outrage was on Saturday, when the story broke that one of Paterno’s best friends, his longtime trusted assistant and heir to his job at one time, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing young boys. The fact that Paterno, the man whose firing Wednesday night triggered the rioting, knew about what his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, did as long as nine years ago and did nothing more than pass on the information to a superior was apparently lost on the young people who seemed so outraged by his firing.
Either that, or they were simply using it as an excuse to take to the streets on what otherwise would have been another boring night in the ‘sticks’ of Pennsylvania.
In a scene that made you wonder about the level of education that’s available at Penn State, we saw this riotous mob overturning a television electronic gathering news vehicle and one student yanking on the wires attached to its ‘live’ mast. Apparently, he missed Common Sense 101 which would have told him about all about electrocution. But I digress.
What the kids of Penn State don’t understand is that Paterno had to go, just as the school president had to go and the athletic director. And soon, everyone who had even the most remote connection to the evil that Sandusky allegedly has done has to go. Here’s why.
This is a business decision. Penn State University will undoubtably be sued by every one of the victims that Sandusky allegedly abused. The number is growing. One Philadelphia television station said his alleged victims may approach 30. The official count as of now is ten.
Secondly, any college is in the business of recruiting students, either for academic reasons or athletic, perferably both. What parent in their right mind would let their child leave home and metriculate at a school that enabled a sexual predator? There would be millions of dollars of lost tuition, and no school in the world can afford that in this troubled economy.
And, donor money to both athletics and academics would surely dry up, if the Penn State University Board of Trustees didn’t take decisive action. It’s said to say, but the head of an anthletic director on a platter doesn’t begin to compare with the head of a school president and legendary coach on a similar piece of china. The fact that both were complicit in these alleged attacks made the board’s decision all the easier.
That’s why the images of rioting that we saw in Wednesday night made little sense. In ten year, when perhaps some of those students have their own kids, they’ll think differently than they are right now. It’s the wisdom that comes with age. Protesting over people of your own age dying in a jungle thousands of miles away still strikes me as noble.
Protesting and rioting over a football coach who was fired for failing to help prevent young boys from being allegedly molested, having their lives ruined and unwittingly perhaps preventing other potential victims from coming forward, strikes me as the ignorance of youth.
I bet their parents are proud.