Escaping the Hurt for a Few Hours

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It was all right to watch the Raiders and Chargers, to check in on Tiger Woods at the Australian Open, to find out what was happening with Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech.

It was all right to get away from the hurt.

The world of sport had been changed, pummeled, humbled, embarrassed, but that didn't mean we couldn't still be interested in the shots and scores, interested in the games.

You couldn't blame ESPN for its wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy at Penn State, and tragedy is the accurate description. With its numerous channels, with its Eastern time zone bias, with its longtime apotheosis of Joe Paterno, the constant analysis and commentary was understandable.

So was our need to escape.

Nothing will be the same again at Penn State, maybe not in college football.

The pain will linger. The disbelief will last. As former player after elected official after insightful observer made us aware, often as in the cases of Robert Smith and Jay Bilas quite eloquently.

Sport in theory is the antidote to society, to the grim news of bankruptcy and job losses and inhuman acts. Sport provides balance.

But suddenly we're imbalanced, reading about unspeakable acts by a former coach, listening to explanations of why leaders who should have known better hid from responsibility.

On the screen, we saw another wave from Paterno. Another shot of Jerry Sandusky ducking into the back seat of a police car. Another question of how this could have happened. We heard another reference to the children who were abused.

Was Joe going to coach? Yes. Then no. Was Mike McQueary going to be on the sideline? Yes. Then no. Should Penn State drop the game that has been its identification? No. Then ... no.

It hasn't been so much boring as numbing. Over and over. People doing what they are paid to do, thoroughly, almost too thoroughly. More on the Penn State scandal? Not for a while, thank you.

There were no guilt feelings in switching to the Golf Channel, where Tiger Woods - and isn't it ironic now how his scandal compared with the one at Penn State is a laugh? - was making birdies like it was 2001, not 2011.

Or in switching to college football, where the two Techs, Virginia and Georgia, battled closely before the Hokies emerged with the victory.

Or in switching to the Raiders taking apart the Chargers, Carson Palmer looking very much like a quarterback whom you would want to trade two first-rounders to obtain. Nice deal, Raiders.

The golf, the football would end in the briefest of time. The agony at Penn State will persist, and so will the coverage. So will the accusations.

Tom Bradley replaces Paterno as coach "with a heavy heart,'' which is about all he could say.

The vice chairman of Penn State's Board of Trustees, John Surma, tells us, "The university is much larger than its athletic teams.'' To a point. Across the land, however, Penn State is football, championship football.

Events shape perception. Had Jerry Sandusky not been part of the program, the sordid tale would not have been linked to football. Now, properly or not, the link will be impossible to dissolve.

"The past several days have been absolutely terrible for the entire Penn State community,'' said Surma.

There isn't much we haven't seen through the years. There isn't much we haven't experienced. After a while, we're reduced to head shakes and sighs - hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, shootings, again and again.

The elements, like those conceived in a mystery novel, are all present this time: a famous coach, a respected university, a deviate whose actions went unpunished, a student body divided in its loyalty to a man and an educational institution.

It's a story we would expect on CNN, but because of those involved and the connection to our passion for sports, needed to be embraced by ESPN.

A sports network felt compelled to tell that story as it would the story about Penn State playing Nebraska, which it will Saturday.

There was no lack of respect for ESPN's excellent work, just a wearying lack of attention by some of the audience, including myself. What we saw at midnight Wednesday was repeated at 9 a.m. Thursday. All one could think of was: Now what?

Now real, live action from across the Pacific, where Tiger and Dustin Johnson were swinging away on green grass under a blue sky.

Now real, live action from San Diego, where the AFC West lead was on the line and the Raiders were on the ball, winning, 24-17.

We got away for an evening, from the gloom, the disillusionment. In truth, we'll never get away. What took place at Penn State will haunt forever.

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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