It’s Only a Game

Nov 12, 2011 by

 

“This song is for you, my brother.”

Jim Carroll – another good Catholic boy.

 

Obviously I’m a sports fan; I run a site that’s over 80 percent sports.  I grew up in Virginia watching Ralph Sampson; I played baseball, football, tennis, soccer and basketball.  I went to the Oyster Bowl in VA Beach every year.  I attended Virginia Tech during the beginning of Beamer’s tenure and we lost almost every game, yet I still went to every one of them.

I have NEVER been someone to say it’s only a game.  Not when I was 7 and running around the soccer pitch never sure if we won or lost.  Not when I was ten and playing my first game of baseball and overthrowing first base every time.  Not even when I was 15 and realized that my shoulder was so trashed I’d never play competitive baseball again.  It’s only a game when you don’t care.

I died a little bit this year when the Braves collapsed, winning only 8 games in the entire month of September.  EIGHT GAMES.  I barely watched the playoffs, only rousing myself to watch the series with my good friend; a Cardinals fan no less.  I rooted for the Cards.  I rooted for the Cards because of what it meant to my friend.  I hate the Cardinals, but while it’s never just a game, the Game isn’t bigger than the humans who live and die for it, whether we’re watching or playing it.

And that’s what it comes down to, the reason I’m writing this: the humans that play these games, the humans that watch them, and the humans who have to deal with us.

One of those humans is my friend, the Cardinals fan.  He grew up in a little Midwestern town, a good Catholic boy in a family of meager means.  They didn’t have cable; instead he listened to his beloved Cards on the radio.  He played sports, starring in football and basketball for his high school team.  His family life wasn’t great, far from it really, but like a lot of us, he found solace in something some might tell you is only a game, but he knew better.

Another is Joe Paterno, winner of 409 games, the face of Penn State Football, a program built on honor.  For Joe, Football – Penn State Football – is more than just a game; it’s a way of life.  He’s famous for his leadership, honesty, and willingness to point out when he feels something is wrong, and then make it right.

The next two groups are wildly different, but no less affected: the students at Penn State and the boys that Jerry Sandusky raped.  They come from different places: one of means, one of less.  One group, while still young, is old enough to make the right choice, the other is in a position to not just be influenced, but to be controlled by someone they look up to.  Both of them looked up to men who taught others how to play a game, and supposedly, how to live life.

The thing that saddens me most about the Paterno flap is that it’s taken everyone away from what really matters:  those little boys and what was done to them.  Paterno has become a lightning rod, deflecting the storm from Sandusky and his victims.  I blame Paterno, the University and the Rioters for shifting that focus.  Their actions have taken something horrific and turned it into a circus.  This should be an easy, if unpalatable, situation to understand.  Instead it’s become watered down.  Joe Posnanski has said that Paterno is a scapegoat, and I love JoPo, but Paterno has taken a horrible situation and made it so much worse, he’s not a scapegoat, he’s a distraction, and he had to go.  He’s not to blame for what Sandusky did, but he is to blame for allowing the circus to continue long after he should have stepped down.

I have to admit, if it weren’t for extenuating circumstances, this would be just another horrible event on the news.  I don’t get paid to do this, I don’t care about Penn State Football, and Paterno means even less to me.  There is nothing that would normally compel me to do this.  I’d like to think I’d be righteous about those little boys and what they went through; but in a world where baby killers, child molesters, and serial killers are part and parcel with mom, baseball and apple pie; I’m realistic enough to know that my thoughts would have quickly turned to Top Chef, or what I was going to make for breakfast, in an effort to move on with what’s important to me.

I came home last night and there was a note waiting for me from my friend, and roommate:  the Cardinals fan.  The Sandusky situation has been upsetting to him, and not just because he’s a good guy who understands how horrific the situation is.  When he was a kid, growing up in that small Midwestern town, he was molested by an adult that was supposed to take care of him.  Someone he looked up to.  As bad as that was, what’s even worse is there were other adults who knew, other adults who were supposed to take care of him, and they didn’t.  They let it go because it was too much for them to deal with.  They let it go because it was too much to stir up.   They let it go because the man who committed these atrocities, not just with my friend, but with others as well, was an important figure in their town.  They let it go because they were just too goddamned chicken shit to do anything about it.

My friend is big enough to kick most of your asses, and he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.  He’s a grown up, he knows how the world is, and he’s moved on.  He doesn’t fly into a rage when he reads about child abuse and he doesn’t huddle in the corner and ignore it either.  He’s moved on with his life, because that’s what we have to do.

He cried when he saw the outpouring of misguided emotion by the Penn State rioters.  He didn’t cry for himself, he cried for those little boys, lost in the maelstrom, lost in the egos of old men and impetuous youth.  He cried for them because somebody had to.

I didn’t write this because I had to, I wrote it because I wanted to, because he couldn’t, and because in the end, it really is only a game.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Ginny Norton

    Alan
    Amazing post…. Thank you for giving us this invaluable perspective and insight.
    Ginny

    • This whole topic makes me sick and pissed off. i have read the inctidment and I am not going to defend JoPa or any of the administration at Penn State that heard what was happening with Sandusky and the boy in the shower. With that being said I believe that everyone’s anger is directed at the wrong person. We should be extremely disappointed with the way the situation was handled by the administration at Penn State but the real focus should be on the grad student. He is the one that after being an eye witness to a rape did nothing to stop it but run home to tell his father. Upon disusing the scene with him he decided to wait a full day to report the incident not to the police but to JoPa. Who in turn relayed what he had been told to his supervisors. At this point everything is one mans word against another. This is where the administration is at fault for not reporting something of this nature to the police. However, as a male in my 20s I do not understand how someone who is a former football player and physically fit did not beat the piss out of a man they see raping a young boy. Instead of running away and hiding for 10 years this grad student should have taken immediate action by putting on his big boy pants and calling the police himself. This man (at this point in time) is still on the coaching staff at Penn State. Now people are calling for a self imposed death penalty at Penn State because football is too important to the school. Lets get one thing straight here. Football should be about the guys playing the sport. None of which have done anything wrong. Why punish them? With the incident that has taken place Penn State will see enough damage to their school and legacy. It has been a sad week for college football

  2. Traci Totherow

    Thank you, Alan. Well done.

  3. Alan, you definitely wrote that from the soul. Great post. I know “Card Fan” is proud to have you as a friend.

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