Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Academics versus Athletics

Having just read “Personal Foul at Penn State” (, an editorial in the New York Times, I do not know what I am more sickened by, the actions of a pedophile or the blatant cover-up by the coaches, the athletic division, and maybe the university. According to Maureen Dowd, Joe Paterno, Head Coach of the Penn State football team, knew of at least one incident of rape of a 10-year-old boy by Jerry Sandusky, his assistant coach. Paterno was told by a graduate assistant, who had seen it happen in the boys’ locker room; however, he did not contact the police. In his words, Paterno believed the incident to be nothing more than two males “horsing around”. Additionally, Dowd stated Paterno was present at Saturday’s practice, being watched by his loyal Nittany Lion fans, obviously not fazed by the black mark on their school’s reputation.

In contrast, earlier this year, Dr. Antonio Calvo, a Spanish instructor at Princeton, was abruptly released from his teaching position after several graduate students and a professor attempted to prevent his reappointment ( Calvo’s opponents cited his harsh management style and inappropriate comments as reasons to remove him from the university. For example, Calvo told a female graduate student she deserved to be slapped and referenced “a male student’s genitalia in an e-mail, using a common Spanish expression that implores someone to get to work”.  Sadly, after being fired, Calvo committed suicide in April.

Clearly, Calvo’s comments and behavior have no place in an academic setting; however, Calvo’s actions are far less severe compared to what Paterno and his crew are accused of covering up at Penn State. How can one justify continuing the employment of a complacent coach in the sexual abuse of children, yet remove an instructor (although not innocent) who may have only needed mandatory counseling or cultural sensitivity training? In my mind, sexual assaulting young boys for years is more deplorable and worthy of being fired than inappropriate comments; both are horrible examples of collegiate behavior, but one should guarantee termination. Simply put, it demonstrates a disturbing trend among universities and colleges. Sport programs are given more support than academic departments, including ignoring ‘indiscretions’ athletes or coaches commit.

As much as I detest the current state of sports, especially collegiate and professional football, I understand that these institutions are important to our culture. Athletic scholarships provide educational opportunities to students who may never afford college. Sport teams provide campuses with a unifying force to stand behind, crafting school pride and traditions. However, at what cost? Some student athletes are placed upon pedestals that make them feel untouchable by the law and other university departments; coaches ignore scandals involving their star players, because they are under pressure to produce winning seasons; and the school does not want to admit embarrassing or criminal behavior in order to protect their admission numbers.

Sports can be a positive aspect of collegiate life, but only if the ones responsible keep an eye on the well-being of their players—and all others involved—rather than an eye on the score and their pensions. 

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