From Ta-Nehisi Coates, Penn State and the nationalist impulse”:
Throughout Sandusky’s trial, I’ve thought back to the crowds of students angrily defending Joe Paterno. It’s not that those students were particularly monstrous — on the contrary, it is the normalcy of their behavior, the humanity of it, that amazes. As others have said there’s [a] line between Penn State, the Catholic Church’s scandals, and the scandals among the ultra-orthodox Jews out in Brooklyn. (I hope I phrased all of that right.)
What you see is the human impulse to squelch the rights of individuals for the greater glory of a nation. We can see that even here in America, looking at civil liberties in the post-9/11 era. But in the Sandusky trial it’s boiled down in the worst possible way. The impulse is to be horrified by people defending Penn State’s handling of this, because, at the end of the day, it’s only football. But when football becomes your identity, when football raises buildings on your campus, when you so much relate to the players on the field that their affairs absorb your weekends, then it’s no longer “just football.” You take on aspects of the religious and the national.
As an academic, I naturally have a sensitivity for matters relating to college athletics, and I have predictable biases. At some point we’re going to have to come to terms with how our universities do business — and in this sense big sports are continuous with big research, lucrative pursuits at best orthogonal to what everyone knows is the core mission of universities, the education of students.
That elision conceals a lot of important differences, of course. But I think it’s an interesting insight, and new for me, so I’m going to let it stand for now.