Steinberg: Values remain important

Watching the Penn State students tear up their campus in support of football coach Joe Paterno was a shocking sight this week.

College is supposed to be an incubator of ethics and values. The students evinced no concern for the fact their campus facilities were used for the raping of young boys by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach who kept an office on the campus and hung around the football team. They could have cared less that their university and athletic administration covered up the crimes. They had no problem with a coach who made a phone call and no more, and protected his longtime friend. They made a god out of Paterno and came to school to worship at his feet.

Losing bragging rights as students of a major football power was more important than compassion for youthful victims.

Paterno was the most powerful figure on the Penn State campus and in that region of Pennsylvania. For 61 years he compiled the most victories of any college football coach in history. He preached that his program stood for something special — ethics and integrity.

There were no major NCAA violations or investigations. The school won national championships. It produced legions of NFL players who generally displayed character. I represented Ki-Jana Carter, a running back who was the first pick in the 1995 draft, and quarterback Kerry Collins, who was the fifth pick.

Kerry donated $250,000 to the athletic department to endow a lifetime scholarship. Penn State was held up as an example of a football program that exemplified the best in college athletics.

Somewhere along the line Paterno reached a level of deification that stopped any scrutiny or criticism. Alumni and students bought into the concept of Joe Pa as Penn State. And, that climate allowed a sexual predator to use the campus football program as a lure to take at-risk youngsters into life altering nightmares with no one to turn to.

College football is a powerful force for a university. It can be a vital attraction toward fundraising. At many schools it is a revenue generator that helps to fund less popular sports.

The gathering of thousand of fans in a stadium and millions more on television can be a thrilling experience. The emotional attachment of students and alumni can be a unifying bond.

Alumni keep in touch with friends and classmates at the games. They text and e-mail each other throughout the season. They can become so enraptured that they live vicariously through the success or failure of the team. Victory becomes life and death.

Sports can be an inspirational educational experience for athletes. It can help mold fundamental values like self-respect, self-discipline, courage and clear thinking under pressure, as well as teamwork. It can be a source of life-long pride and friendships.

But at the deepest level, football is a GAME.

When students and alumni lose their priorities of what is truly important in life a university loses its integrity. It is certainly important to learn subjects like physics and Spanish and history, but values and character are the most important part of education.

Understanding the pain and horror that young sexual victims suffer and having empathy for them is more important than what happens on a football field. Learning to take action and responsibility in the face of wrong is more important than sports.

Having the critical ability to understand how complex humans are, and that great actions can be interspersed with unacceptable ones is a vital part of the educational process.

What are those students acting like a drunken mob learning at school?

I have dedicated my career to building good values in athletes and having sports stand for something positive. But when it goes wrong, we need to remember our basic values.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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