So the whole Sandusky scandal is finally over, right? The town of State College has finally put their most prominent pedophile behind bars, and now they can get back to the Penn State football program, right?
There’s another scandal here, and it’s one we can learn from. Heaven forbid that such a tragedy could be repeated at one of our church’s universities, but what if?
Let me back up for a minute. I once met a woman from North Carolina and all she could talk about was Duke University. Duke this, Duke that. She was completely unaware that, to the entire rest of the country, it was simply another university. Same with Penn State, despite its fanatically loyal fans.And, though it may pain Cougar boosters to hear this, BYU is, to outsiders, just another university also. Outside our own culture, no one hopes and prays that their kid gets into BYU any more than you hope and pray your kid will go to Penn State. Coincidentally both exist in towns that like to call themselves “Happy Valley.” But in truth, outsiders of both groups do not set their time by ours, and do not think the sun rises and falls by what happens to the Nittany Lions or to the Cougars.
And so as we watched the Sandusky debacle unfold, most of us forgot how maniacal certain fans can be, and were aghast that the entire town of StateCollege appeared only to care about getting their football program going again. Perhaps it’s the media’s fault, but the locals seemed-- on national news anyway-- so obsessed that they couldn’t see what was happening right under their noses.Who knows? Maybe that worshipful regard for their team could be why such a monstrosity went on for as long as it did—because the entire town seems to genuflect before the sacred game of football, and Sandusky was given a pass for his heinous, unconscionable behavior. To me, if a community is that uncaring, that twisted, then that’s a scandal all its own. Like the hideous women who look the other way as their husbands molest their children, here was a town that seemed to want to sweep this whole sordid mess under the rug and pretend it never happened.
Meanwhile, you have dozens of boys (if you really think it’s only ten, you’re dreaming) whose lives are shattered, scarred forever, and who will never again be the same. But, hey, as long as this embarrassing trial is over, now we can get back to what really matters: Football.
To the rest of the nation, they looked like boobs. I’m sorry, but couldn’t one reporter find one resident who had his priorities straight? I know there are solid thinkers in Pennsylvania, but why weren’t they found and interviewed? Why did on-the-spot reporters keep saying that the feeling in the community was “a feeling of relief, so the football program could get going again?” or that folks were eager to “rebuild Penn State’s reputation?” Was that really the most important issue in this entire ordeal? I found myself wishing the Penn State locals, if they honestly couldn’t see beyond their precious team, would at least stop talking to the Press.
And then I saw it-- that single-minded gleam in the eyes of die-hard Penn State fans. They had invested so much of their lives in a sports program that they had completely lost sight of humanity. I wonder if BYU has any fans that obsessed, that they would care more about the fall season than the hearts and souls of young abuse victims. Would they be similarly quoted on video, blabbering about what a relief it was to have this over with? Would they look so shallow as that? I hope not. And I hope our understanding of the larger picture and the eternal view, would temper the more rabid fans and pull them back to a position of compassion and reality, able to set aside their fixation on the Cougars long enough to focus upon the larger problem of premeditated, unspeakable cruelty to innocent youth.
We like to think we’re above that. We understand the purpose of life, after all. We honor the Priesthood and work on our testimonies of Christ. But at the same time, we’re not naïve: We all know families with similar scars, inflicted by those who knew better. We’ve watched members slide into sinful choices and illegal activities, landing in prison or worse. So a lesson from Penn State might be good to note, after all, as we redouble our commitment never to let something so dreadful happen on our watch.
And it’s a vital wake-up call for sports fans everywhere. We need to ask ourselves, do we overlook an athlete’s rape conviction, dog-fighting conviction, serial adultery, or a host of other crimes just because they’re so talented that we can’t wait to watch them play again? Do we forget about the victims of their wrongdoings because these guys are so amazing and popular in their profession? Would we shrug off eerie, unsettling behavior by a coach simply because he has a winning team?
Like the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we need to remember what this life is actually for. And cheering on your favorite team ain’t it.
Joni Hilton’s latest book, “FUNERAL POTATOES—THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the "As the Ward Turns" series, "The Ten-Cow Wives' Club," and "The Power of Prayer." Hilton is a frequent writer for "Music &The Spoken Word," many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.