Victims’ Rights vs. Football Pride?

The Penn State scandal is a story about one man whose legacy has been tarnished because of his failure to report his knowledge of  his defensive coordinator’s alleged rape of a 10-year-old child. Joe Paterno is a man who claimed to put integrity and character above the game of football. A seasoned champion of the game like what John Wooden was to college basketball. Now his career is tainted and the reputation of the Penn State Nittany Lions lies in question. This is the story right?

If one man’s reputation is given higher priority over the lives of eight supposed sexual abuse victims, then this story needs some serious reexamination. Ever since the scandal was brought to the nation’s attention on November 5, sports media has been spouting headlines and stories about Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program. What does the future hold for Penn State? Is Paterno’s legacy ruined? Did Paterno make the right choice? When will Sandusky’s trial start?

Who cares? This issue is not some typical NCAA violation. This is a violation of human lives. This story is far more serious than the Southern Methodist University recruiting scandal or the University of Miami illegal booster controversy, yet this is how the media goes about it. This is the story of eight boys whose lives carry emotional scars that are not easy to erase, yet the media has been prioritizing the world of sports over their lives.

The top stories on the ESPN webpage are about new recruits debating whether they will commit to Penn State next season. In last week’s game between Penn State and Nebraska, ESPN made the game look like a tribute to Joe Paterno as the Nittany Lions took the field without him for the first time in 46 years. The Washington Post tried to capture this emotional moment in their article on the game to try to get readers to sympathize with Penn State. What about this week’s headlines? Joe Paterno is in the hospital for a treatable lung cancer.

Rape is a serious issue. Victims of rape have a tendency to hide their scars because the shame they felt during the incident is too much to open up about. They feel “dirty” and “unloved.” They cannot trust anyone, especially after someone whom they trusted violated them. They live a life of constant fear and can’t speak up about the issue because they are afraid of being hated and rejected. Many victims of sexual abuse have considered suicide while others tried to maintain a normal life but find themselves in broken marriages and constant self-doubt. You can read all about the horrors of rape in Rick Reilly’s column in the middle of the webpage. It’s that tiny link in the white section next to the link for Bill Simmon’s Grantland and ESPN fantasy football picks. The fact that this heart-wrenching piece is not the main headline baffles us and it should baffle you.

The Penn State scandal should draw attention to rape. Can the media bring awareness to the issue of rape and how even in the world of athletics, such atrocity can happen? In the midst of this scandal, the perfect response would be for the media and all NCAA-affiliated schools to campaign rape-awareness. Defending or bemoaning Paterno’s character is pointless (Penn State rioters, you should be ashamed). The nation needs to stop focusing their attention on one man and be mindful of those eight victims. What happened before is already done and everyone needs to move on. The important issue at hand is how such tragedy can be prevented and how the victims will find justice. Let’s drop the matter on Penn State football right now. Let’s find a way to bring awareness to rape.

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