"Of course we're going to riot," Paul Howard, a 24 year-old aerospace engineering student at Penn State University, told The New York Times. "What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o'clock that they fired our football coach?"
The coach in question, as we all know, is Joe Paterno, the decades-long patriarch of Penn State football. Paterno was fired by the board of trustees for his part in a reprehensible non-response to the alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers.
You have to wonder what's wrong with our society when someone can say, "Of course we're going to riot," but not over the cover-up of pedophiliac rape. Rather, students feel it is their obvious right, perhaps even duty, to throw violent temper tantrums when a multimillionaire football coach is fired, simply because the coach is part of their "college experience."
"We got rowdy, and we got maced," Jeff Heim, 19, told the Times while rubbing his bloodshot eyes after police used pepper spray to disperse the rioters. "But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend."
I don't think Paterno is anywhere near the worst offender among those who did considerably less than the bare minimum that decency and integrity require. But there's something deeply, pathetically sick about the idea that what tarnished Paterno's legend was his termination and not the fact that he never once bothered to ensure that an alleged child rapist was stopped.
Yes, yes: Journalistic niceties require that I say Jerry Sandusky, the longtime assistant coach accused of serial sexual abuse and exploitation of children, hasn't been proven guilty of anything yet. And that's true. But it doesn't exonerate Paterno and other officials. An eyewitness said he saw Sandusky sodomizing the boy in the shower. Unless officials thought it was a demonstrable lie, they had a moral and legal obligation to contact police. But they didn't think the witness was lying. They kept him on staff. And they simply barred Sandusky from bringing children to the facility. So once Sandusky was out of sight, his crimes were out of mind.
Obviously, the real horror here is in the alleged criminal conduct (and if you haven't read the indictment of Sandusky -- and have a strong stomach -- you should look it up on the Internet).
But there's a larger point to be made here. Several, actually. People keep saying the cover-up proves the corruption of college football. Maybe so. College football certainly has its myriad and manifest vices.