Jewish Journal


November 8, 2011

Penn State football and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal


More and more disturbing news seems to be coming out of Happy Valley every day. First we heard this weekend that the Penn State athletic director had been indicted for allegedly covering up accusations of sexual abuse by a former defensive coordinator. Then details of the alleged abuse, as told to the grand jury, were released. In all of this, it’s been difficult not to think of the Catholic Church and its sexual abuse scandal.

While there clearly are differences—E.D. Kain focuses on fact that “Penn State is not some extreme religious order”—there are a lot of similarities. Failure to report allegations to police is one. A potential cover up is another.

Some of these go to the idea of football as religion.

Mark Silk explains the effect of the Church of Happy Valley:

As anyone who has ever visited State College, Pa. knows, Penn State football is a cult, a pilgrimage site complete with shrines and devotees and rituals. You can find similar ones in other university towns, be the institution of higher learning public or private. Among the hierarchs, to be sure, few have ever reached the power and status of the Nittany Lions’ Joe Paterno—the closest thing to a permanent icon in American sports history.

The scandals that regularly arise in such cults tend to be about money—usually having to do with the recruitment and care of the athletes—with sex thrown in when the athletes misbehave. That this one involves protection of an important assistant coach who reportedly liked to rape boys is incidental. ... [A]t bottom, it is the religious character of these institutions that, again and again, impels them so determinedly to cover up their sins.

Read the rest here.

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