Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Sense of this Penn State Mess

Making Sense of this Penn State Mess
By Aaron M. Smith

This past Saturday, I read the grand jury report about the Penn State mess involving Jerry Sandusky et. al. I haven't been the same since and I can't even imagine how the last decade has gone for the young boys most directly affected. It has sickened me and has made me question the current state of our society. It has made me loathe the college football machine, the greed, the power that has seemingly -- and unfortunately -- taken a seat at the top of our collective priorities. There is too much to talk about with this horrific and outrageous story, but I wanted to bring up a couple of questions that I can't seemingly wrap my brain around.

On Graduate Assistant Mike McQueary
USA Today photo of McQueary and Paterno
Mike McQueary then a 28-year old MAN, walked into the locker room and heard what he said sounded like sexual actions coming from the shower. He walked into the shower and saw Jerry Sundusky raping a defenseless boy who, McQueary said, looked to be about 10 years old. McQueary walked out of the locker room distraught and called his father. His father and he then went to Joe Paterno's house the following morning to talk about what he saw.

Let me stop right there for a moment. McQueary witnessed a vile criminal act and didn't think to call the police? How is that possible? Secondly, McQueary, a big man and former football player, left the 10-year old boy to fend for himself. He left the locker room without trying to save the child or find out who he was and how he could help. That is the most dispicable thing in this. He walked out on this kid without helping him. He let this child alone with Sandusky after witnessing Sandusky raping him. There is absolutely no excuse for that. None! This is a quote from McQueary's father:

"He's a good kid and tough kid. He did what he was supposed to do, and all of this has been very hard on him. Everything from this and about this (case) has been difficult for him, but he's a strong person and will be OK."

Wrong. On so many levels. First, he wasn't a kid. He was a 28-year old man. Let's be clear on that. He was a 28-year old man who knows the difference between right or wrong. Secondly, he did not do what he was supposed to do. He saw a horrendous crime being committed against a young boy and did nothing to stop it nor did he call the police to report what he saw. He did NOT do what he should have done. And to the father, neither did you. How can you hear that account from your son and not call the authorities? Not only did your son not do what was right, neither did you.

Then there are reports that Sandusky has been a part of the football program for the last decade, often working with players and running a youth football program. I simply do not understand how McQueary could see Sandusky commit such a vile act and then see him working with young boys and not do anything about it. It says a lot about what kind of person McQueary is. And judging by the act of his father, it's easy to see where he got it.

On Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno is the Godfather of college football. At Penn State, he is simply a god. He ran the program and for all intents and purposes, the entire university. He was the equivalent of a CEO for a Fortune 500 company (Penn State makes a $50 million profit each football season). Someone comes to him and tells him that his assistant coach was doing something "of a sexual nature" to a young child. Whether he understood that it was a full-on rape or not, he has an obligation to get the police involved immediately. Take the football out of this. A CEO knows an employee of his has sexually assaulted a child in his office building and then does nothing is usually arrested and charged with some sort of obstruction of justice. That hasn't happened. JoePa is a legend. He's a football coach. He didn't get the police involved at all. And there is no defense for that. All Paterno had to do was make a phone call after hearing about Victim 2. And because he didn't, there are now 20 victims with horrific tales about Sandusky.

I'm tired of hearing about Paterno the Legend. His football accomplishments pale in comparison to the unbelievable lack of humanity in this situation. How you could know what happened and let that man on your campus and in your locker room and a part of your university is beyond me. How you could know Sandusky was raping a child and then see him running his youth camp is disgusting. Paterno, you had an obligation to this child, and you failed miserably. I feel no sympathy for you -- only for the 18 (at least) boys that became victims after you failed to stop Sandusky in his tracks.

On the state of our society
I've heard so many times in the past four days, "As a father of two, I'm outraged ..." or "Being a parent, this sickens me."

How about "As a human being ..."

Why do you only understand how horrendous this crime was if you have children of your own? People are saying that the media is making Joe Paterno a scapegoat. Seriously? Read the grand jury report and I'm sure you'll have another perspective on the matter.

Last night when Penn State officially fired Joe Paterno, students from the university rioted and screamed "We want Joe!" They overturned media vans and set things on fire.

Where was this outrage for the victims?

On college football
College football has gotten too big. There is so much power and money and greed and the people in charge have lost all perspective. It has become "Protect the Program" first and everything else a distance second. Unfortunately, because of this greed, this dedication to the program, sexually abused and assaulted children finished a distant second. Let me say that again. It was the Penn State football program first ... then the kids. Sickening.

When a university puts its football team above all else, this happens. In my opinion, if Penn State feels this strongly about its football program, so strongly that abused children where never even tried to be identified and helped, then maybe it shouldn't even have a football program. Seriously. If a football program is too important to even reach out to help sexually abused children, there should be no football program.

On Jerry Sandusky
I can't even think about what to write about this monster. He is a despicable excuse for a human being. He is the true monster. He is the villain. He is the person who ruined the Penn State name. He is the person that ruined the lives of so many.

But we as a society also failed miserably here. What kind of world do we live in where something like this could happen? People are rioting in favor of a coach instead of picketing and demanding justice for children. This is a horrific failure on our part.

As a human being, I'm appalled by all of this. By Sandusky. By Paterno. By McQueary. By the school president. By the rioters on campus. No one involved has any dignity left. And no on-field accomplishments or budget reports should make anyone think otherwise.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Open Letter to the Cleveland Browns

An Open Letter to the Cleveland Browns
By Aaron M. Smith

Dear Cleveland Browns,

Back when Browns football meant something.
Twenty-three years ago, I stood in the pouring snow in raucous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, a wide-eyed nine-year-old, as the Cleveland Browns overcame a seemingly insurmountable deficit to stun the Houston Oilers and clinch a spot in the playoffs on the last game of the 1988 campaign. The Browns were without starting quarterback Bernie Kosar. They were without backup quarterback Mike Pagel. They were without third string quarterback Gary Danielson. They were without starting fullback Kevin Mack. Yet the backups fought with a passion for the game that I can't honestly say I've seen since, well, Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore following the 1995 season.

That was 16 years ago. And that is sad.

I am now 32 years old and have just finished watching one of the most lackluster performances by the Browns since they returned to the field in 1999 as an expansion team (and that is saying something). This team may play in Cleveland and don the brown and orange of the original franchise, but they have lacked the soul of the Cleveland Browns and the heart of Paul Brown and Jim Brown since they returned to the league.

Hillis making his statement.
For more than a decade, I have watched the Browns field weak rosters with guys who were more interested in payday than game day. The most recent player is Peyton Hillis. Last season he arrived in Cleveland via trade with a chip on his shoulder the size of Shaker Heights. He worked his butt off, plowing over defenders, and earning respect as a blue-collar bruiser that so represented the heart and soul of Cleveland. But that one year got into his head. He know thinks he is bigger than game. He showed up in less than stellar shape. He has not taken care of his injuries. He left the team to get married in mid-week. He let his agent talk him into sitting out with strep throat in order to make a statement about getting a monster contract extension. Meanwhile Tony Romo -- you can say what you want about him -- was suiting up and playing for the Cowboys with two cracked ribs and a punctured lung. That's heart. What Hillis has shown is selfishness and greed.

Since 1999 the Browns have had guys named Palmer and Butch and Romeo and Man-Genius and Shurmer running the team. Every other year the Browns get a new quarterback and then a new offensive system and then a new head coach and then another system and so on and so forth. It's not hard to see why this team has been the most offensively challenged team in the last decade. The Browns have had new general managers and new philosophies and nothing has worked. Nothing. Some 12 seasons after the Browns came back, I still see confusion from the players, blank looks from head coaches, and absentee owners and general managers. Nothing has changed. This endless cycle of ineptitude is embarrassing.

The scouting program in this franchise has got to be one of the worst in the league. How can the Browns have top-10 picks year in and year out and still put one of the weakest rosters on the field? This current team has so little talent, I doubt it could compete with the best in college football. Seriously. Josh Cribbs was a good find and is THE soul of this team. Too bad there is only a handful of players like him on the entire Browns roster. I just don't understand how after a decade of getting the top choice of the best players in college football, the Browns have an obvious lack of talent compared to other NFL teams. Detroit has finally figured out how to draft well. The Bengals seem to know that they're doing these days. These were two inept franchises that figured it out. The Browns are still wallowing in their own ineptitude. 

Yet with all of this dysfunction, the Cleveland Browns have no problem charging insane money for PSLs and season tickets. Single game tickets are ridiculously pricey as well. You can't take a family to see the team play -- not that anyone would want to these days -- because it would cost a month's salary for most just to get in the gates. Not to mention, the seats would have to be a mile away because the corporations and businesses and millionaires get the good seats.

I grew up the biggest of Cleveland Browns fans. I was inspired by Bernie Kosar and Hanford Dixon and Big Daddy Hairston. I loved Clay Matthews and Frank Minnifield and Kevin Mack. But the players that put on the uniform these days don't even come close to the guys that once represented this once-proud franchise. Not being a good player is one thing, but the lack of passion that I've witnessed, the lack of intelligence on the field for the last decade is inexcusable. Football is their chosen profession, yet being stuck in this quagmire of mediocrity seems to be just fine to those in charge of this organization. In any other profession, this level of failure would not be tolerated.

Have some pride in what you do. Understand that you represent not just that franchise that once was, but that you represent a city that has defended your ineptitude the entire way. It's time to start paying back the fans for years of sold out stadiums and around-the-world fan clubs. It's time to give the fans something to cheer about again. Sooner or later, the Browns won't just  have lost games to worry about. They'll have to worry about lost fans. And I would think that would mean something to those in charge.

There is no ultimatum here. I'm not threatening never to go to a game again. I'm not saying I'm not a Browns fan, because in all seriously, I don't think that would really mean anything to the franchise. Just know that one of your biggest fans can't even watch you play on Sundays anymore. I would hope that would mean something, anything to such a fledgeling franchise.

Aaron M. Smith
Browns fan since 1985

And to show I'm not alone, here is a link to someone who feels about the same: