A Few Good Men
By Joey Accordino
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As Jack Nicholson's character famously insinuated, sometimes the truth is simply too ugly to behold.
The year is 1992. The summer blockbuster is A Few Good Men, a film in which Tom Cruise’s character, an ambitious young lawyer, famously demands the truth from Jack Nicholson’s character, a grizzled military vet. Nicholson famously responds, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Nicholson is right. The young lawyer can’t handle the truth, and more importantly, he doesn’t really want the truth. Sometimes, the truth is simply too ugly to behold.
The year is 1992. The Penn State Nittany Lions are one of the premiere programs in the nation, finishing with a final AP ranking of #3 after destroying Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl. Coach Joe Paterno has already established himself as a coaching icon, carrying the gravitas to write an open letter to college presidents, cautioning them to avoid stricter recruiting guidelines:
“If we can create this atmosphere of collegiality, we can use all of our resources to make college football and intercollegiate athletics what they should be: a meaningful educational experience for our maturing young people, a source of pride for our universities and enjoyment for the millions of people who love college sports.”
The year is 1992. Ten-year old Travis Weaver is introduced to Penn State’s defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky at a Second Mile summer camp. Over the next four years, Weaver says, Sandusky sexually abused him more than 100 times.
Sometimes, the truth is simply too ugly to behold.
The year is 2012, and the ugly truth about college football is this: as fans, we can’t handle the truth, and we don’t really want the truth.
College football is crumbling. Not the product, which is as strong as ever. Rather, the moral code of college football is crumbling, evidenced by major scandals in recent years at places like North Carolina, Southern California, Miami, Ohio State, and of course, Penn State. These scandals are the direct result of an ethical failing on the part of administrators and coaches, moral compasses that pointed toward wins rather than principles.
The question then, is whether we care more about wins or morals as college football fans. The evidence says that the programs are choosing winning: The University of Alabama gambled on Nick Saban, a coach that deserted the Miami Dolphins after promising to stay, and they have been rewarded with two national championships. The University of Arkansas gambled on Bobby Petrino, a coach that abandoned the Atlanta Falcons midseason, and were rewarded with an extramarital scandal that forced them to fire him.
Ohio State recently made a splash when they hired Urban Meyer, considered one of the top coaches in the game even though his players were arrested 30 times during his time at Florida. Whether his Ohio State tenure will unfold more like Saban’s or more like Petrino’s is truly anybody’s guess.
Today, winning and the possibility of winning trumps everything. As fans, we protect ourselves when a scandal occurs, declaring, “that could never happen at my school.” The ugly truth is this: scandal could absolutely happen at your school, and in fact, may be happening right now.
Jim Tressel, formerly a pillar of morality, failed to come forward when he learned that Ohio State players were breaking NCAA rules, because he worried about the effect it would have on his program. Most disgustingly, Joe Paterno failed to come forward when he learned that his defensive coordinator was sexually abusing young boys, because he too worried about the effect it would have on his program. If you think your coach is a rock of justice, you may be surprised: there are very few good men left in the upper echelon of college football.
We live in a college football landscape where the ends justify the means, and the most celebrated figures are often the most flawed. But we have a choice as fans: do we continue to tacitly accept wrongdoing at the expense of wins? Do we celebrate big-time coaching hires even if the coach has a checkered past? Do we rejoice when we get a big-time recruit with a police record? The choice is yours, and your decision has never been more important.