I, like many members of the B1G 10 and country at large, have spent the past half year or so following the Sandusky scandal. When the story first broke, I commented on the incident as the spokesperson for PAVE, a student organization dedicated to ending sexual assault on the UW-Madison campus. In both a letter to the editor and guest column in The Daily Cardinal, I invited the Badger student body to use the PSU tragedy as an opportunity to think about violence on our own campus and to reflect on how we should behave when confronted with the topic.
It was a dark time marked by a story that horrified anyone with a good head on their shoulders. When Penn State students rioted, flaunting their love for Joe Paterno, most looked on in disgust – and for good reason. Valuing a sports idol’s legacy over children’s safety is absurd. Eight months later, the Freeh investigation report has made what was already a black-and-white situation even more straightforward, but with its release has come a new cloud of lunacy, one found in the comment sections of online news outlets.
There is well-documented proof that all evil in the world manifests in the comment section. Give a man anonymity and in the amount of time it takes to click “submit,” you’ll find your faith in humanity shaken. For this reason, I tend to avoid comment sections, especially when they regard things so dear to my heart (in this case sexual assault prevention).
But this time around, I couldn’t resist. My cynical self expected to find a boatload of comments on what a “hero” Paterno was, how his memory will not be blemished, blah blah blah. There was a bit of that, but I’m guessing people have come to realize sharing such opinions will lead to endless chastising. As such, comments tended to take on this tone:
- “Penn State should be discredited as a college, its sports programs shuttered, and the administrators who allowed this predator to operate on its campus, locked up in jail. There is no excuse for this wholesale cover up on child abuse.” – on The Huffington Post’s “Freeh Report: Penn State Administration, Joe Paterno covered-up Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse”
- “Let’s now see if the NCAA has the courage to do the right thing and make a definitive statement on behalf of college athletics that this horrific failure will not be tolerated by taking away Penn State’s participation in NCAA football. It is the least the NCAA can do.” – on The New York Times “Abuse Inquiry Faults Paterno and Others at Penn State”
- “Time for the NCAA to give Penn State the “death penalty.” Ban their football program for life. Shut it down completely.” – on CNN’s “Penn State Leaders disregarded victims, ‘empowered’ Sandusky, review finds”
Here’s the thing. While I prefer anger toward the cowards who did nothing over favor and blind loyalty, these comments say a lot about how people are reacting to this situation: They don’t want a solution; they want vindication. They’re not concerned with preventing child abuse; they’re concerned with putting people behind bars.