Friday, July 13, 2012

Penn State's Nazi Moment


Penn State riot after Paterno Firing

Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" refers to a tragic series of events, which occurred on November 9, 1938.  Mobs of young Nazis took to the streets of Berlin and other German cities, shouting "Heil Hitler."  They smashed the windows of Jewish-owned stores and synagogues, and as a lynching-hysteria took hold of the crowds, roving bands bludgeoned to death whatever Jews they could find.  I do not mean to belittle the horrors and tragedy of the subsequent Holocaust by comparing it with the dozen or so victims of Penn State molestation scandal, however repugnant.  But I do want to respond to the growing chorus of voices who insist that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should not impose a "death penalty" on the Penn State football program.  Their reasoning is that "such drastic actions would unfairly harm those who had nothing to do with the scandal."  This is where Kristallnacht might offer useful insights into the nature of fanaticism, as it unfolded at Penn State.  What were the good  citizens of Germany doing that evening as Nazi  mobs smashed and killed?  Where in fact were they?  


 On the night of November 9, 2011, more than a thousand Penn State students and residents of State College, Pennsylvania spilled into the streets.  They rioted, turned over vehicles, broke store windows, all the while chanting "JoePa" and "Hell No, Joe Won't Go," like pumped-up members of Hitler's youth brigade.     The Penn State Board of Trustees had just fired their beloved football coach Joe Paterno, in hopes of limiting the damage caused by Paterno’s failure to report an incident in which his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky was seen molesting a ten year old boy.   This culture of football fanaticism at an institution of higher learning is far too deeply rooted for anyone to believe that the athletic program and university administration will heal themselves merely by changing the leadership at the top.  Rather than wait for the NCAA to make a decision, the University needs to take control by imposing its own two year "death penalty" on the football program.  It will take at least this much time to shatter the university culture that blinded some administrators and students to basic principles of human decency and silenced others.  
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