The gods of football

Disgusting, nauseating, horrendous, and criminal—these are just a few words to describe what has happened at Penn State; but there aren’t enough words in the English language to adequately describe the horrible events and sexual abuse cover-up that have occurred over the last 15 or so years.

Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State defensive coordinator, has been arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15 year period. Those are the “known” facts but there is speculation that the abuses may go as far back as the 1970’s. There are eight identified victims but there may be many more discovered as the case continues. Fallout from the case so far has cost the school president, Graham Spanier, and the legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, their jobs. Athletic Director Tim Curley is on administrative leave and Vice President Gary Schultz, who was in charge of the university’s police department, has stepped down. Schultz and Curley are also charged with lying to the grand jury and failure to report to the police.

Penn State Football

The lives of the eight young boys have been forever changed, their youth robbed of its innocence, and self-esteem and trust forever damaged. All of this happened at the sports altar in the temple of football. They were used as sacrificial offerings to appease the gods of greed and excess in the name of football. A large and prestigious university may come tumbling down because no one wanted to stand up to the great god of sports and his high priest, Joe Paterno. No one wanted to risk the wrath of the gods and alumni by going to authorities with the ugly truth. Those in charge of the temple—the administrators, coaches, police—all kept their silence.

Exposing the truth would have meant a possible loss of revenue and a black eye for the athletic department. By allowing the cover-up to continue for so long the black eye appears minor compared to the festering ugly wound eating away at the face of the university. And make no mistake, it was a cover-up. One quick read of the official grand jury indictment shows that so many odd things had been happening over the years that everyone had to know what was occurring. Sandusky openly traveled with the young boys to team and other events, the boys stayed with him and attended team breakfasts and meetings, and he was seen late at night with the young boys in the locker rooms and showers.

There were whispers and rumors about the football program for years among the sports circles. Sandusky, who was JoePa’s heir apparent, suddenly retired, at the young age of 55 in 1999, even though he had just won the assistant coach of the year award. At his retirement party Paterno made a quick appearance, said a few words and quickly left. All of this for someone who had reportedly been his good friend and many considered would someday follow in Paterno’s footsteps. The first abuses that we know of occurred five years earlier. Could there be a connection here?

Other rumors say that the abuses began as early as the 1970’s. Coincidentally, Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mile, was founded in 1977. Is there another connection here? Sandusky chose his victims from this non-profit organization that was designed to provide guidance and develop self-confidence for troubled young people. It appears some of these young people emerged from the program even more troubled than when they entered. It took the courage of one heroic mother to finally stand up to all the followers of the almighty sports gods and say nothing was as important as her son.

The Greeks and their athletic gods

The worship of sports goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. They believed that their gods loved to see strong, fit and graceful young male bodies. Therefore, one way to gain favor from the gods was to exercise, eat right, and excel in athletic games. They even felt that a loss meant that the gods didn’t like you.  Athletic competition was tied to worship of the gods.

Even the word “stadium” has religious significance. It comes from the Greek word “stadion” which was the name of the place built to honor Zeus and was where athletic competitions were held. The legend says that when Heracles completed his twelve labors he built the Olympic stadium as an honor to Zeus. Following its completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this distance a “stadion” which was later used as a unit of distance. The term “stadion” or “stade” was later applied to mean a short race or sprint measuring between 180 and 240 meters, or the length of the stadium.

Today’s gods

Things haven’t changed much in today’s world. One of the most notable and profitable athletic companies is named after the goddess of strength, speed, and victory—Nike. Not to be outdone, Adidas is marketing an athletic shoe that sweeps into wings at the ankle channeling the mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans in which Hermes and Mercury were said to have wings on their feet.

Outstanding athletes are still viewed as gods in a sort of hero-worship. Ohio State will never forget but long suffer the name of Terrell Pryor. He was the beautiful muscular specimen of a quarterback god who was supposed to bring glory to the Temple Shoe. What he brought was greed and shame to the Shoe and its followers. He had risen so high on his pedestal that worshipers paid mucho money for the privilege of his autograph on temple equipment such as shoes, shoulder pads, etc.

Over the past several years the gods (coaches, star athletes, and entire teams) have felt protected behind the veil of worship and have been so empowered that they tempted the fates. However, purgatory and hell will eventually catch up and the golden touch of Midas will turn to rust. Terrell Pryor, high priest Coach Tressel, and other lesser gods were banned from the Temple Shoe—some forever and others for a prescribed period of time to do their penance. The same will happen to the worshipped and their flock in Happy Valley.

This past weekend gods and fans of Temple Shoe and Happy Valley Temple gathered to test their powers. Ohio State and Penn State met at midfield, shook hands and took a short time to honor the victims and respect the game before entering their colossal battle. Karen S. Days, president of the Center for Family Safety and Healing based at Nationwide Children’s Hospital said “We wanted to make sure the victims felt honored. It also was a sign to Penn State that we support you.”

Putting the games into perspective

Let the games begin again and continue forever—in a clean and honorable way worthy of the one true God. Let us never forget that no one person is bigger than the game, institution, or the temple of football itself. Even though we worship them as gods, they are mere mortals with all the human frailties that come with it. Let us put the game in perspective and honor the competition, not the personalities involved. Honor the sport and do the right thing on the field and off—no matter the cost. God bless the victims and their families and let us pray no other innocent victims will be sacrificed at the altar of sports.

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