Malik Sekou OSEI and William PLEASANT
The student riots at Pennsylvania State University last week proved once again that the Great American Stupid Machine is still in full effect. Indeed, hundreds of Penn State students ran amok in support of the recently fired head football coach Joe Paterno. Windows were broken, fires were set and public property was abused on the State College., PA campus. But there were no tear gas clouds, no stun guns, no baton-wielding palace guards on hand to answer the veritable uprising. Not one rubber bullet was fired! Unlike young folks who have recently taken to the streets across the country to protest joblessness, political corruption and economic disparity, who are routinely abused by the police and arrested, the Penn State mob had its night of wilding and safely returned to its dormitories, punished by little more than a mild tounge-lashing. America cannot tolerate youths who rage against their political degradation, but vandalism on behalf of wounded college team pride is obviously not only swallowed as just the youngsters sowing their righteous oats, but encouraged by the mass media. For who could stand idly by and watch the unjust crucifixion of Joe Paterno?
Coach Paterno was, more or less, the eternal saviour of Pennsylvania's white male identity, to the extent that it was represented by the Penn State football program. Last week, Paterno, after nearly 50 years on the job and after being enthroned as the winningest coach in college football history, was given the boot by the university board of trustees. The university president, Graham Spanier, was also shown the door. Heads continue to roll at Penn State. Why were they, the epitome of big college success, so ungratefully cast out of the kingdom? The story is by now well known to all. Paterno, his staff as well as school administrators tacitly and sometimes actively participated in a cover-up of child abuse perpetrated by another Penn State icon named Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky, a veteran assistant football coach and Paterno honcho, currently faces at least 40 felony pedarasty charges. In short, Sandusky has been accused of child sexual molestation. He allegedly liked to screw little boys and he got away with it for years under the protection of Paterno, et al.
Homophobic sensationalism aside, we must examine, as Marxists, why a routine case of serial child rape not only provoked a riot but continues to keep lips flapping from one end of the TV dial to the other. Indeed, people who work with children have been known to take sexual liberties with their charges. Some professions actually attract criminal sexual deviants. Sadists like to be police officers and prison guards. Buggerers go in for cub scout master and assistant school principals gigs. And when it comes to amateur youth sports, the coaching profession is a lightening rod for child molesters. They love it! Where else can a combination of adult social authority, naked physicality and naive juvenile trust pruduce such a harvest of readily available and terrorized victims? The Pennsylvania prosecutor's evidence strongly suggests that Sandusky was just a run-of-the-mill perverted sports coach. The case should end there and the trial should begin. But the consternation over Sandusky's locker room antics has little to do with the barbarism of child sexual abuse or the fact that he preyed upon "at risk" youngters--namely impoverished Black middle school boys--and everything to do with commodity aesthetic.
Many sport and political pundits will readly come to the defense of Joe Paterno by arguing that the old coach never personally knocked boots with a pre-teen, after all. And he covered for his pal Jerry Sandusky over nearly ten years in an effort to protect the image of the football program and the university in general. Far from an act of crass indifference and cronyism, Paterno's collaboration with serial child molestation was in fact a noble act in defense of The Nittany Lions. The prestige of the football program had been compromised. He had no choice. And anyway, given that the alleged victims were ghetto urchins, there had to be enough petty cash about--from the school administration or wealthy team boosters--to buy the silence of the victims and their outraged parents. In fact, that is the way these matters are usually handled in other US institutions. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has secretly paid settlements in the tens of millions of dollars to the child victims of their boy-crazy priests. Hell, why string up Our Saint Joe of College Station for acting like the Archbishop of Boston? Hells-bells, he didn't lose his job!
Money and intimidation make these sorts of messy matters fade away under usual circumstances. Right? The Church may be able to pray itself to social forgiveness, but the Penn State football program does not run on the grace of God. It runs on cash and it produces a surplus that is socially gobbled by everyone from the hot dog slingers in the stands to the blue-suited moguls who own the mass media in this country.
Neither school honor, pride nor moral integrity led the calculated actions of Paterno, his staffer nor the school administration. Looking bad as a consequence of Jerry Sandusky's misbehavior was really never the issue. Sandusky could have been booted from the university and thrown to the wolves a decade ago if that was the case. There was ample evidence suggesting that his relationships with the children he interacted with were less than wholesome. Paterno and Company were never interested in protecting the reputation of Penn State. They were entirely invested in protecting the Penn State BRAND NAME. Why? Because that is where the college sports treasurechest is hidden.
College sports, particularly football and basketball, are multi-million dollar industries, rooted in the virtual enslavement of young athlete/performers. Their exploits on the court or on the field provide reason for billion-dollar stadium construction contracts, great goo-gobs of licensed knicknacks--ranging from t-shirts to customized automobiles--and super-lucrative broadcast fees. Penn State football is actually an industry, a factory of sorts that yearly generates billions of dollars for the university and its clients. Students and athletes actually play the role of temporary workers in this production arrangement. Grazed silly on school spirit and team rivalries, students and atheletes provide the leading cast of the Penn State football spectacle.
But quite frankly, there is little difference between a gang of bleecher-bound folks hollering at two packs of dudes chasing a ball and wallowing in the dirt at Podunk Junior College and the same activity going on at the Rose Bowl. It's just a game, after all. But when the same category of spectacle is invested with millions of dollars and promises to generate billions of dollars in return, then we witness the transubstantiaton of spectacle/commodity to brand. Penn State footbal, the fans, the soap opera of players and coaches are a single package, no different from candy bar. But in the case of Penn State, as with other big college sports programs, the candy is the wrapper, the inards are actually generic. Hard value in the form of cash was added to Penn State--literally the nam PENN STATE.
Return is made on that investment by the fact that once the final whistle is blown on a Penn State football game, the students, fans or just plain bored folks across the US can wear Penn State, drive Penn State, even eat Penn State licensed goods. Moreover, various products lines also pay a pretty penny to ride the coattails of the Penn State brand through multi-milion dollar sponsorships.
In the end, the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the subsequent cover-up campaign exposed large segments of the US public to the extent to which big college sports industries will go to protect their brand appeal. That is the big story, and it won't go away soon. But the cries of the victims will quickly fade to oblivion. So what if a dozen or so Black boys had to be sacrificed to a pervert? They were just consumables in the productive process of making Penn State make money, as far as the Joe Paterno, the college administration, the fanatical boosters and the gluttonous brodcast outlets were concerned.