It isn’t all that surprising that an athletic program like Penn State’s, which prided itself on its pristine record of “victory with honor” should experience such a profound fall from grace.
When a record of any kind is created, it becomes an institution in itself, a sacrosanct entity to be revered. It develops its own imperative, which is that it must be safeguarded at all costs. In this case, the comparison that has been made with the priestly abuses in the Catholic Church is an apt one: The preservation of the institution and its image becomes even more important than the furtherance of its original purpose. In the case of the Church, that purpose is to save souls. In the case of a college football program, it’s to win games and, second, to build character in young men.
Ironically, had Penn State’s program had a checkered history similar to those of many scandal-plagued football factories, the coach’s original heinous act might have been reported the first time it was witnessed, since there would have been no institutional record of purity to protect with a cover-up.
In a perfect world, the same virtuous qualities that contributed to Penn State’s enviable stain-free record would have prompted the witness to report the crime immediately, regardless of consequences. Instead, a university’s hollow reputation was deemed more important than the fate of the subsequent victims.
It is said that the greatest sin is that of pride. Maybe that’s because it can so easily derail our conscience.