x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No one will rock a winning boat as Sandusky's incident proves

Penn State’s success allowed Jerry Sandusky’s appalling crimes to go unpunished for too long.

Jerry Sandusky’s actions cast doubts on the image of long-standing head coach Joe Paterno, right, who died of lung cancer in January.
Jerry Sandusky’s actions cast doubts on the image of long-standing head coach Joe Paterno, right, who died of lung cancer in January.

What awe is due the power of winning, for it's even mightier than we thought.

Winning at sport reaps attention, stirs loyalty, gushes over into reverence and blindness, culls money that makes livelihoods, rangy tentacles of livelihoods, even tangential livelihoods we never consider. It builds new buildings and statues. It lavishes identity upon entire cities and towns. It draws 100,000-strong crowds to watch students play American football.

The human connection to winning always did ring deep and profound, only now we learn it as deeper and profounder than presumed.

A jury verdict on Friday night in the biggest sporting scandal in the United States serves a fresh helping of awe.

When 12 jurors found a once-respected American football coach guilty on 45 of 48 counts related to molesting children, they cemented a new dimension in our understanding of the effects of winning.

As the former Penn State University assistant coach Jerry Sandusky began apparently the rest of his life in jail, we could gaze back across the two-decade timeline of his crimes and amplify our awe at the sheer force of winning.

For so long in so many places, we have seen the crystal meth of winning go into the community bloodstream and cause distortion. The US alone has its notorious cases, all over the map.

An English professor at the University of Georgia exposed academic fraud with athletes and learnt that a good chunk of the community valued the chance at sustained winning over the academic fraud.

An English professor at the University of Tennessee later did and learnt likewise.

A basketball coach in the Midwest who reported another university's cheating couldn't find a big job for a conspitcuous amount of time thereafter.

Repeatedly, chronically, news media outlets that reported facts of cheating at the local university (or pro club) have found themselves vilified for reporting the facts of the cheating of the local university (or pro club).

Winning blows in. It elbows around. It ransacks all manner of virtues. Still, not until Penn State did we see a case that would answer this question: Would it trump the safety of children?

It would.

Every marker unearthed so far in the grim Sandusky timeline shouts that it would, with more markers coming as the lawsuits ensue.

We know that some knew about a police investigation of Sandusky in 1998 that revealed a semi-confession. We know that some right up the football hierarchy knew about an assistant coach finding Sandusky in a campus shower with a boy early in the last decade.

We know that even after those rumblings, it continued for years, the sight of Sandusky on campus with children from his charity for the underprivileged boys upon whom he preyed.

Soon, we might know more about the conditions around Sandusky's odd retirement at merely 55 in 1999. Already, we know from the network NBC about emails between the university president and vice president that stressed being "humane" … toward Sandusky.

As vileness upon vileness has surfaced, and the harrowing court testimonies of eight victims have gone heard, people near and far and sport-minded and sport-loathing have wondered. How?

How in the ludicrous world did nobody protect the tormented children?

If ever you have hung around an atmosphere of chronic winning, you might know that answer. The winning foments an empire, sustains livelihoods, bolsters community spirit, becomes a brand.

Anyone standing up at Penn State would have had to stand up against four-plus decades of winning, chronic winning, nationally respected winning, 14 seasons with the coveted college-football win total of 11 or more, six more with the gaudy total of 10, eight with nine. Win that much for that long, and the winning will transform a gumdrop town, inflate it, furnish it with vast, sprawling recognition.

A buck against that much winning would come with untold ostracism, as learnt in cases with professors and reporters. It would come with fear of career loss and change, with strange phone calls, strange glances.

And while anyone worthy of the title "hero" would weather all of that, and while this case had so few heroes - zero - that it dismantled the six-decade reputation of a head coach (Joe Paterno) revered for rightness, think of any hero emerging these recent months. It would be a life upturned already. Winning and the promise of more winning would have upturned it.

So let's not get smug here. Right after this, we're all falling back to winning, to celebrating winning, to wishing for winning, to admiring winners for their resolve. I might well get to that in a column right here soon. Winning is a prescription drug we seem to need, even if like all drugs it does need regulating, lest it trample even the young and tormented.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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Summary before the trial began by Sara Ganim, the reporter who broke the story for The Patriot News. Courtesy Penn-live.com