The Actions of Others; Society; Americans Sometimes Excuse Immoral Behavior by Elite Institutions or Celebrated Individuals

By Sanger, Kurt | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Actions of Others; Society; Americans Sometimes Excuse Immoral Behavior by Elite Institutions or Celebrated Individuals


Sanger, Kurt, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In light of Louis Freeh's report on the Sandusky scandal at Penn State University, influential voices have called for a suspension of the school's football program. Although a suspension would affect many blameless individuals, it would be appropriate in this case. While Jerry Sandusky's crimes were not related to football, nor similar to the types of conduct for which other football programs have been suspended, football enabled the commission of Sandusky's acts. In that regard, anyone with an interest in PSU's football team contributed to the circumstances that allowed Sandusky to commit his crimes.

Social environments are the products of all of their components, whether individuals or groups. While leaders have a major impact on the climate of an institution, followers also create aspects of institutional climates and direct them. Participants at all levels of a community are influenced by and are influencers of social environments.

In PSU's case, its students, alumni and fans are passionate about their football team. That passion is positive, for the most part. However, when confronted with a coach molesting young boys, PSU's leaders were influenced by their fans' devotion and chose to protect their football program. Although those fans are innocent of any wrongdoing, their elevation of the sport allowed PSU's leaders to believe that protection of the program was paramount over protection of children. Fans are not complicit in any way, but an indirect, unmalicious factor in a crime is still a factor. The demonstrations in support of Joe Paterno that devolved into riots are a reflection of fans' misguided passion for the team. These events should be considered by PSU and the NCAA when deciding whether the university needs to pause its football program for a year or more.

Suspension of the program certainly would be unfair as applied to some. It would affect young athletes who have limited years of eligibility in which to play organized football. Those who hope to play in the NFL may never get the chance. Players who will not go to the NFL may miss their last opportunity to play, all based on actions of others. Suspension also would affect the students and alumni who support the team. Sports, particularly football, in American universities generate a collective esprit that develops a pride in community that no other activity creates.

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