My recent post ,Where do Penn State and the NCAA go from here?, stirred up a lot of controversy. My concern over this whole debacle, besides the obvious of molested children, is the fact that it continued because of the elevated stature of football on campus. Penn State is not the only university to hold the coaches and team in such high regard but is the most recent in the news. The Freeh Report stated the culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community is one of many contributing factors as to why Sandusky was allowed to continue his actions for so long.
When this story broke last year I saw similarities with all big time football schools and Penn State is not the only one to hold its football program in a culture of reverence. The same attitude of hero worship is what led to Ohio State’s downfall. These thoughts led me to write The Gods of Football.
Below are excerpts from The Gods of Football, posted Nov. 22, 2011, in which I analyze this very problem. As I re-read this piece it seems I was almost psychic in my predictions and analysis.
NOTE—the references to Ohio State, its coaches and players refer to what is known as Tattoo-Gate in which players exchanged autographs on school equipment in return for tattoos. This ultimately led to the firing of Coach Jim Tressell, benching of players for many games for their involvement, and strong penalties for the school including loss of all games played for2010-2011 season, and banishment from bowl games for the 2012-13 season plus other punishments. Temple Shoe refers to the nickname of the Ohio State Stadium commonly known as the horseshoe because of its unique shape.
The gods of football
….The lives of the eight young boys have been forever changed, their youth robbed of its innocence, and self-esteem and trust forever damaged (due to Jerry Sandusky). All of this happened at the sports altar in the temple of football. They were used as sacrificial offerings to appease the gods of greed and excess in the name of football. A large and prestigious university (Penn State) may come tumbling down because no one wanted to stand up to the great god of sports and his high priest, Joe Paterno. No one wanted to risk the wrath of the gods and alumni by going to authorities with the ugly truth. Those in charge of the temple—the administrators, coaches, police—all kept their silence.
Exposing the truth would have meant a possible loss of revenue and a black eye for the athletic department. By allowing the cover-up to continue for so long the black eye appears minor compared to the festering ugly wound eating away at the face of the university. And make no mistake, it was a cover-up….
It took the courage of one heroic mother to finally stand up to all the followers of the almighty sports gods and say nothing was as important as her son.
The worship of sports goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. They believed that their gods loved to see strong, fit and graceful young male bodies. Therefore, one way to gain favor from the gods was to exercise, eat right, and excel in athletic games. They even felt that a loss meant that the gods didn’t like you. Athletic competition was tied to worship of the gods.
Even the word “stadium” has religious significance. It comes from the Greek word “stadion” which was the name of the place built to honor Zeus and was where athletic competitions were held. The legend says that when Heracles completed his twelve labors he built the Olympic stadium as an honor to Zeus. Following its completion, he walked in a straight line for 200 steps and called this distance a “stadion” which was later used as a unit of distance. The term “stadion” or “stade” was later applied to mean a short race or sprint measuring between 180 and 240 meters, or the length of the stadium.
Things haven’t changed much in today’s world. One of the most notable and profitable athletic companies is named after the goddess of strength, speed, and victory—Nike. Not to be outdone, Adida is marketing an athletic shoe that sweeps into wings at the ankle channeling the mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans in which Hermes and Mercury were said to have wings on their feet.
Outstanding athletes are still viewed as gods in a sort of hero worship. Ohio State will never forget but long suffer the name of Terrell Pryor. He was the beautiful muscular specimen of a quarterback god who was supposed to bring glory to the Temple Shoe. What he brought was greed and shame to the Shoe and its followers. He had risen so high on his pedestal that worshipers paid mucho money for the privilege of his autograph on temple equipment such as shoes, shoulder pads, etc.
Over the past several years the gods (coaches, star athletes, and entire teams) have felt protected behind the veil of worship and have been so empowered that they tempted the fates. However, purgatory and hell will eventually catch up and the golden touch of Midas will turn to rust. Terrell Pryor, high priest Coach Tressel, and other lesser gods were banned from the Temple Shoe—some forever and others for a prescribed period of time to do their penance. The same will happen to the worshipped and their flock in Happy Valley….
Let the games begin again and continue forever—in a clean and honorable way worthy of the one true God. Let us never forget that no one person is bigger than the game, institution, or the temple of football itself. Even though we worship them as gods, they are mere mortals with all the human fragilities that come with it. Let us put the game in perspective and honor the competition, not the personalities involved. Honor the sport and do the right thing on the field and off—no matter the cost. God bless the victims and their families and let us pray no other innocent victims will be sacrificed at the altar of sports.