If you haven't figured it out already, I live in the Midwest. Right smack dab in the middle of Big Ten country. We love our football around here. Love it like it is a religion. On autumn Saturdays you can drive around and see each home's allegiance hung outside on the flagpole (in these parts it is mostly Ohio State, some Michigan, and a few others thrown in for fun). Our kids are raised in jerseys and memorizing past coach names and stats. Sure, we are fans of our NFL teams, we love our MLB boys of summer, basketball (college and pro) will hold our interest in the winter months. But it is college football by which we live and die.
Today many of us watched or listened as the NCAA handed down a list of sanctions to Penn State's storied football program and university. Some of us were simply shocked. Some were glad. Some were disgusted (this shocks me just to type it). I could write about many things here today, but I will leave the sport and legal analysis to the experts. What keeps leaping to my mind is our children who are growing up today and who are growing in their love of the sport. They will forever be marked by this decision.
I didn't attend a Big Ten school. We were a Division I-A. We played PSU during my sophomore year (and lost...it was Joe Pa's 300th win at the time). I never had hero-worship of my university's football coach. As an Ohio State football fan, I've never had hero-worship of their coach either. Of course, I grew up in a family that loved football and had the perspective that these men who ran the programs were humans-as capable of fault as any of us. We are raising our son to have the same beliefs of his own "heroes" that he sees in his favorite sports. But so many children I know don't have the same perspective. So many adults lack it as well. Just look at your facebook or twitter feeds today (and of late). It is one thing to enjoy the sport, to love watching the game. It is entirely another thing to make it your "be all and end all" each and every season.
I am proud to be a Midwesterner. I am proud of where I grew up and where I live. I am a proud follower of my favorite football teams. But I am not a blind fan of any of these things. I see them for what they are-places, things, teams all made up of beautifully flawed people. We have to seek to find balance between the hero-worship that has existed within the programs and the terrible downfall that can come when our heroes topple. We need to allow them to be human. We need to demand excellence, but not at the cost of honor. We need to be proud of teams and individuals that have academic integrity as well as athletic. This is so much bigger than what happened today at Penn State. So this fall when you throw your favorite university's jersey over your head, keep some perspective as you head out to your tailgates and watch parties. Remember what you are celebrating and help become part of the solution. Not part of the problem.