The list of shameful and even horrific actions is long at Penn State University, where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky faces numerous child-sex charges, and the apparent cover-up of his actions have led to the firings of the university president and legendary head football coach Joe Paterno. But we have to add a new entry for the Penn State fans who made threats against the assistant coach who reported one instance of abuse in 2002.
Mike McQueary, a former Nittany Lions quarterback who was a graduate assistant in 2002 and is now the wide receivers coach, originally was set to coach in tomorrow’s game against Nebraska. But the university released a brief statement last night saying that, due to threats against McQueary, it would be “in the best interest of all” if he stayed home.
Those threats reportedly were not made by fans upset that McQueary didn’t do more nine years ago to stop Sandusky or make sure he was brought to justice before now — although many people, myself included, believe he should have. Rather, they were made because of McQueary’s role in ending the career of Paterno, who was in his 46th year as head coach and holds the Division I record for all-time football wins. Before that, students rioted in response to Paterno’s firing, an action that will in future years, I hope, cause them much embarrassment.
The word “fan” of course stems from “fanatic,” and there has always been an element of irrationality to sports partisans. (Full disclosure: I hold season football tickets to my alma mater, the University of Georgia; I will be in Sanford Stadium tomorrow when the Bulldogs play Auburn; and I will not rule out the possibility that, while there, I will scream out something I normally wouldn’t say in polite company.) But for whatever reason — greater TV visibility, more money at stake, etc. — the fanaticism has transformed into something else.
If the example of threats against McQueary doesn’t persuade you, I recommend ESPN’s recent documentary about Steve Bartman, the Chicago Cubs fan who was treated mercilessly and threatened repeatedly by other fans after interfering with a Cubs player’s attempt to catch a crucial foul ball in a 2003 playoff game. Bartman’s life has been changed forever because he just happened to be the closest to the field out of a number of people who instinctively reached up for the ball in the same way at the same moment.
But the McQueary example is worse, because there is no ambiguity about the Sandusky situation. McQueary only should have done more, not less, and the same is absolutely true for Paterno. And yet, there are fans whose tribal loyalty to a football team has completely overrun any sense of morality.
And that is truly shameful.
– By Kyle Wingfield