Editorial Round-Up: Reactions to the Penn State Scandal

Newspapers nationwide tried to make sense of the Penn State scandal.
by | November 15, 2011

As outrage followed allegations of child molestation by a former Penn State football coach - and apparent lack of action by his superiors who knew about them -- newspapers grappled with the fallout of such a tragedy. While federal investigations were launched and a legendary football coach lost his job, editorial boards, particularly those in Pennsylvania, tried to make sense of the situation.

The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Penn., lamented that Joe Paterno, one of the most successful head coaches in college football, had become the focal point of the story. Paterno lost his job, the newspaper said, but the real victims of the alleged abuse have been lost in the media storm that has followed. The newspaper hypothesized that the common practice of not publishing the names of victims of such abuse resulted in their being "nameless, faceless" to the public at large.

"While we know them only as 'victim 1,' 'victim 2,' 'victim 3,' 'victim 4,' 'victim 5,' 'victim 6,' 'victim 7' and 'victim 8,' let us not forget that they are at the heart of this," the Patriot-News wrote. "The least we can do is remember it is their lives that were horribly altered and that they deserve our support first and foremost."

Dennis Dodd, a senior columnist for CBS Sports, pleaded with institutions of higher education to take this opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the undue influence of athletics on universities and colleges as a whole. Limit scholarships, he said. Put a cap on coaches' pay. Reduce their budgets and funnel that money toward actual learning for the majority of students who don't don a uniform, he asserted.

"They have failed miserably -- the bloated athletic departments; the overpaid, out-of-touch coaches; the apparel companies; the networks; maybe even the NCAA," Dodd said of the college athletics culture. "This is where the excess has to stop. This has to be the point when universities quit bowing down to King Football."

That was a perspective shared by Dennis McCartin, a former Penn State professor who wrote an op-ed for the Patriot News. He condemned the "corporate culture" that would allow such a tragedy to persist by placing a higher emphasis on the reputation of a college athletic program than the needs of children. "The lesson is that leaders need to recapture their moral compass," he said. "It is not easy to do until the damage is done and the mess is out in the open."

The Lehigh Valley Express-Times, located in suburban Philadelphia, expressed its outrage at the generous pensions that the individuals who had been brought down by the scandal would still be receiving. Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach accused of sexually abusing children, received nearly $150,000 upon his retirement and continues to collect almost $60,000 annually, the newspaper noted. The departing vice president, Gary Schultz, earned a more than $400,000 lump sum upon his termination and is set to collect more than $300,000 each year in "retirement."

The Express-Times called it "the most shocking development" of the Penn State scandal.

"There's no question there's something terribly wrong with the system of public higher education when state funding is slashed, programs are cut, tuition climbs, grants become harder to find, loans are costlier and yet administrators and long-time employees rake in pensions as high as $300,000 a year," the editorial board wrote.

Outside of Pennsylvania, the Boston Herald meditated on the connections between the revelations at Penn State and the Catholic Church's own scandal that ranked communities in Boston. In both cases, leaders made the mistakes of believing it was more important to protect the institution than innocent individual, the Herald said.

"It really doesn't much matter whether the abuser wore a team jacket or a clerical collar, the pain of the victim is the same," the Herald declared. "And the shame of the cover-up by those who should have known better, who had a moral responsibility to do better is the same too."

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