Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On the Penn State scandal and being true

Penn State tight end Andrew Szczerba takes a knee after the 17-14 loss to Nebraska. Photo by Matt Rourke/Getty Images.

The scandal that has rocked Penn State University is a painful reminder of how people can let you down. Whether it’s a lack of action or false idolatry or a lack of ethics, it sure is something that leaves everyone diminished.

Having been weaned on Sports Illustrated, I first read about Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions some two decades ago when they were featured and even feted with a cover story. I still have that issue and as a youngster, those “black shoed troops” made an impression on me. How many athletes wore black shoes then? It was only the Boston Celtics and the Nittany Lions.

But it wasn’t even the kicks. It was about the program that Joe Paterno ran that impressed me.

Around the same time of that story, I was able to purchase John Feinstein’s Season on the Brink, a book about Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. This came out years after David Halberstam’s masterful Breaks of the Game, the first book about a sports team’s season.

At that time, Bobby Knight was such a huge name in the coaching profession and even the top Philippine amateur basketball coach Joe Lipa, was said to be a disciple (after attending a clinic by Knight).

The title of the book said it all and at times in the manuscript, Feinstein wondered when the fiery coach would lose control that would hasten his downfall. It did happen in 2000 after he reportedly tried to choke one of his players. After the school administration adopted a “zero tolerance” policy towards Knight, he fell prey to his quick temper when he grabbed a student and lectured him on the lack of respect (many feel that he was set up in this case and I do believe the same).

My room used to be a shrine to Michael Jordan and even with the damning and telling Sam Smith book The Jordan Rules, I remained a fan. That is until those years in the Washington Wizards. I don’t dislike Jordan despite what I feel are many lapses in judgment on his part. However, in the intervening years, I’ve simply decided to appreciate him as arguably the greatest basketball player of all time rather than blindly worship him when I was much younger.

I guess people will always disappoint you (but quite naturally because everyone makes mistakes). And Charles Barkley will forever be right -- just because some athlete can do wondrous things in his sport we should not idolize or blindly follow them. The other night, I got into an argument with a friend who said some things behind my back. I’d rather that he told me than tell others. More so now that things are even more clear. Well, we’re no longer friends and that’s fine. I have always been quick to detach  myself from things so it would be easier to move on. I don’t regret what happened. In fact, it’s fine. I learn about people all the time. 

While discussing the Penn State scandal with an old friend residing in the United States, he said that he drew the line on ethics and morals and damn the torpedoes. This friend of mine who works as a consultant for many firms in the west coast said that he felt no sympathy for the university as they covered up a crime. Any respect he had for JoePa went out of the window with what happened.

And I share the same feeling. Some months ago, I watched ABC Nightline’s continuing hunt for sexual predators and I came away feeling really sick and upset. A long time ago, a friend of mine woke up after hearing cries from a woman. He thought that he was dreaming and went back to sleep. When he woke up the following day, he learned that a woman was raped next door. And he felt so devastated by what happened and what he didn't do. My parents used to have an apartment that they would rent out and one time a long time ago, I was outside playing basketball in our backyard when I heard a child call out. It was the son of our new tennants. He asked me if I could spare some food as he was really starving. I went to the window of their apartment and asked if he was alone and why had his parents not left anything. He said that they didn't and they padlocked the refrigerator! Imagine that. I handed over some food to him through the window and immediately reported the incident to my parents. When they got home, they asked our neighbors what happened. Their excuse was the mother was late coming home and unable to prep any lunch. We listened but did not believe. Two days later, I saw the kid with welts and a black eye. I asked him about it and he said that he ran into the door knob. How does a kid have cracked teeth as well? Turned out that the father had slammed him into the refrigerator door. As we were talking, the father arrived and he said that he was taking his son to see a doctor after his "accident." I did not believe him and accused him of child abuse. He pushed me and I punched him back. My brother soon joined in as we hit him some. We called Bantay Bata but they slipped out through the back gate. We never heard from them again and to this day, I wonder what ever happened to that child. How I wish that more was done in connection to catching these sickos. 

I followed two matches yesterday – the Carrier Classic between the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University, and the football match between Penn State and Nebraska. I thought that it was extremely classy of the Cornhuskers to be respectful of their hurting foe and to assist in the healing by distributing the blue ribbons that call out for help for the victims. The 17-14 loss is sure to be humbling and painful. I shake my head at what JoePa did not do but also shake my head for those who had nothing to do with it (the students, faculty members etc) who must bear this cross that came from nowhere.

I have always thought that the game of American football like baseball lends itself to so much drama. And the pictures that I chose from the Penn State-Nebraska game (through ESPN and Getty Images) say much of what is going on. It is painful indeed but it never should have come to this had the right thing been done a long time ago. I agree with my friend, there are certainly bigger things than winning and that is doing what is right and being true. If you love sports, you cannot come away not feeling affected by this. 

Now hopefully, everybody and everyone learns from this.

 In a photo by Getty Images' Patrick Smith, Penn State cheerleaders embrace after the botched final play of the Nittany Lions that cost any chance of a comeback win.

1 comment:

  1. Rick,
    Breaks of the Game - by David Halberstam - a book I blindly chose (among around 40 books in the list )to do a book review on for my Bus Communications class, introduced me to one of my most pleasurable recreations - reading sports writing. I've read almost all Halberstam books I could get my hands on, and grieved with many when news came out that Halberstam died in that car accident. I eventually got kicked out of Bus Mgt Honors becaue of my Bus Comm grades (Bus Comm!!!) , but I've kept my B+ book report (the only time I got a B+ in the subject) ever since. I'd even say getting kicked out of BMH was worth discovering David Halberstam and the beauty of true Sports Writing. Glad you mentioned Breaks of the Game here.