But oh, how we would love to have these trivialities be the last of our sports problems.
Friday's sentencing of Jerry Sandusky, where the former Penn State defensive coach was found guilty of assaulting 10 boys over a period of several years, brought an official verdict to what many had already accepted — that a gross, misguided man had done something terribly wrong.
But how wrong? Do people really know how bad this entire case was, or did they stop reading once the wire reports moved into facts that you never want adult eyes to see, much less those of children?
In an age where a gung ho team of lawyers can't get Roger Clemens on one perjury count, and in a justice system where drunken drivers regularly get let off on probation or a month of served time, what does it mean that Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts, and that the total maximum prison time of the sentences equals 442 years?
In an age where one high school prank can simmer for decades and lead to ghastly retribution, how can Sandusky's horrifically over-the-line actions against 10 young souls really be added up? People have lived the rest of their lives in damage and shadows after experiencing far less.
Sandusky — and the culture of latitude around him — has forever changed the world of sports. Innocence has truly been lost. The spirit of the game is now a petty thing to chase. Ideals and lessons of character have been washed away by a man who took everything that's good about sports and used it for his own evil purposes.
It began with a culture of trust and promise, where coaches were meant to teach young men the game and in some way guide them through life. Sandusky not only failed in this role, but also took it in the opposite direction — he used his position to take advantage of still-formative children in the worst of ways.
It continued with the world of charity around sports, where, ideally, those made rich by the game use their time and money to help the less fortunate. Sandusky showed what charity can be around high-level sports — a sham, a front, a way to look righteous. And Sandusky not only kept his charity from helping others but also used it as a lure for destructive behavior.
It finished with a legend, with a school that had long stood for lofty goals and idealism, when any allegations that the hero and his program were a farce were batted away by those wanting to believe that miracles still happen, that messiahs still walk on cloistered Pennsylvania campuses. Sandusky took advantage of the castle walls, of the sacred cows, and used what could have been a reputable institution as a safeguard against his own despicable actions.
In that way, he did the only thing worse than committing horrific sin himself — he set up those around him, those who had helped him and trusted him most, to fall along with him.
Where Joe Paterno and Penn State stand amidst the allegations is a question that will continue for years, but Friday's verdict has brought a few definitive parts of the case to a close. Sandusky is a wretched man, and he has been proven so not only in the realm of public opinion but also in the courts that govern him and his peers. The evidence and the way it was weighed leave no question of guilt.
But while the sports world may like to package up Sandusky and send him off, giving him a harsh "shame on you," the one thing this scandal has shown is that it cannot be ignored.
Penn State tried to shun Sandusky, to say it didn't know the level of involvement. Paterno went early to his grave uttering the same. But as the verdict comes, any hint of Penn State or Paterno trying to ignore what happened seems at best insensitive. At worst, it seems that by ignoring the intense ugliness of the entire situation, all related parties who do not readily accept the blame are also taking part in it, in the scars that will linger forever.
So now, instead of chalking up Sandusky as the worst in a long history of athletic misdeeds, the sports world needs to acknowledge the gravity of all that has happened. Sandusky has redefined the player-coach relationship. He's changed the way adults can interact with kids, whether it be driving them to games, fixing up a scraped knee or providing the leadership that's supposed to be part of the beauty of the sport.
Sandusky has reframed the entire discussion of college sports, of favors and coaching tenures. He's changed the way assistants will be hired, retained and given privileges, and he's skewed the way good, honest men will have to respond if they're even within sniffing distance of something wrong.
Above all, though, he's changed the world of sports and the consequences its foibles have. Now, it's no longer bodies breaking down as steroids erode record books. It's not fixing games or scalping tickets. It's not even on-court brawls or health-related concerns from bodies colliding. The world of sports has been swept into the realm of the deepest human evil, where anything is imaginable.
Records can get asterisks, and players can be treated for the pain from a game they chose to play. But the 10 boys forever marred by one out-of-control man can't be recovered, and the precedent set by those actions and the many levels of sports affected by his deeds will not quickly change.
For a day, Sandusky has ruined sports. Now those in charge of the games at every level need to take responsibility to make sure not only that such a thing never happens again, but also that the treatment of human beings is the first concern at every level.
No one can just go out and play sports without thinking of the Sandusky case, and its most base implications, anymore. And for that, Sandusky is more than deserving of whatever sentence he gets. Punish him in the court of law for what he did.
In the world of sports? In that once sacred world, even 442 years won't be enough.
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