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PSU Scandal Robs Sports of Innocence

It comes so fast you barely have time to duck. Or blink. “Bad news on the doorstep,’’ were Don McLean’s thoughts in “American Pie’’ – which, heavens, is 40 years old.

Now the bad news is on the screen, on the internet, on Facebook, on Twitter. Now the bad news assaults without a stop.

This is not about results, about the Philadelphia Eagles, the “Dream Team,’’ underachieving. Or Alabama missing field goals, as unlikely as a couple attempts were.

This is about world, the one from which sport supposedly offers an escape.

This is about life, or in the case of Joe Frazier, a warrior, a champion, about death. Only yesterday he was capturing a heavyweight title and our imagination.

Boxing was significant back then, back in 1970s, the same period “American Pie’’ was beguiling us with mysterious references to the Jester singing for the king and queen in a coat he borrowed from James Dean.

This is about the National Basketball Association, an organization at war with itself. So many words have been spoken and written about a labor situation which so far has gone nowhere. Once again, it’s the little people, the ticket takers, the concessionaires, the bartenders and waiters in restaurants near arenas still unopened for which sympathy is offered.

And this is about Penn State University, where tradition and history have been overwhelmed by disbelief.

Everything is relative. The beginning of the season, some of the alumni, many of the fans, were after head coach Joe Paterno to retire because of his age, 84, and his inability to equal the national championship teams of the past.

Now JoePa’s career may be ending for a reason no one would even have imagined two months ago.

Everything is relative. Ohio State’s Woody Hayes was forced to resign after he stepped on to the field and smacked Clemson’s Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Disgraceful.

But compared to what apparently happened at Penn State, a longtime assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, accused of abusing children, a trifle.

What Woody did was still within the realm of sport, someone losing his temper. Coaches throw chairs. Coaches throw punches. Embarrassing, but understandable, and later sometimes even laughable.

What Sandusky is accused of doing is not even within the realm of human decency.

Only a few days ago, as the NBA lockout dragged on, the thought here was, are the fans even paying attention? Do we need another ESPN analysis, another columnist’s lament over what had developed into a tug-of-war?

David Stern says this? Billy Hunter says that? Wake us when they start throwing up 3-pointers and stop throwing out financial figures.

We’ve been awakened, to something far more serious, something which we might expect to find on the front pages of newspapers, or on CNN – where, of course, it has gone – and not on the sports pages.

To pound away and say, what apparently happened at Penn State, happened with Sandusky, is awful, terrible, unthinkable, is stating the obvious.

College sports scandals are about illegal payments or low graduation rates. This is not a scandal. This is a catastrophe.

Then again, do we care? Not about the kids who were abused. Of course we care about them. Not about Sandusky. We wonder how he committed his alleged acts for so long. But do we wish the whole thing would disappear, and the stories once again were about Tim Tebow’s passing mechanics?

The reported abuse is one of the most frightening things ever to happen to college sports, along with such events as the Marshall plane crash and other tragedies.

But does it really involve college sports, other than a deviate individual who had been an assistant coach at a school famed for football?  

Indeed, it is serious, but is it sports? And does the public only glance at the report, utter a few sighs and move on? And how much interest would there be if the man at the head of the program were not one of the game’s legends, the one who has more victories than any other Division I head coach.

Penn State takes pride in a clean program, one without NCAA suspensions or recruiting violations. Nobody has been accused of cheating.

How, ironic. Now a man who had been an assistant coach there is accused of something far worse, and whether or not that had anything to do with football, Joe Paterno is going to lose his job.

Penn State had been nicknamed “Linebacker U.’’ What are they going to call it now, Jailhouse Tech? State Penn?

The late Howard Cosell used to refer to sports as the toy department of life. If only that were true. The toy department has been shut down.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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