It began in the morning with a televised football game between my old school, the University of Nebraska, and Penn State. Before, during, and after the game, however, we witnessed the playing out of a tragedy – in the original Greek meaning of this word – involving Penn State’s fallen deity, coach Joe Paterno. I use the word "deity" carefully, for in an age in which amateur and professional sports are beset by a good deal of corruption, criminality, and the drive to win no matter the consequences, it is important to acknowledge the exceptions. Joe Paterno has long been recognized as a coach who ran a "clean" program, as is the long-time coach and present athletic director at Nebraska, Tom Osborne. As this game was about to start, my mind raced to the symbolism in the contest: two of the most respected and virtually spotless programs in college sports playing the first game in forty-six years that Paterno was not the Penn State coach! Performed in an outdoor arena whose design was reminiscent of ancient Greek theaters, the game took on dimensions that ran deeper than BCS ratings or television revenues. Sophocles could have written the script!
As you are doubtless aware, this tragedy arose from allegations that one of Paterno’s assistant coaches had, nine years ago, engaged in sex with young boys – one being ten years old at the time. That these acts allegedly took place at Penn State athletic facilities aggravated Paterno’s offense: even though he had not engaged in any of these perversions, did he not have an obligation to more vigorously pursue an investigation of these wrongs than he did, once he had been informed of them?