November 2013
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Many years ago, in about 1939, Arthur Koestler wrote Darkness At Noon while in a Soviet prison. He was lamenting his inability to beat the repressive system forming all around and stifling the free speech needed to make the public aware of the inroads and repressions on human dignity being perpetrated. Similar personal atrocities have happened right at our doors just a few years ago at Penn State University. Assistant head football coach Jerry Sandusky had been involved in certain “games” in the men’s locker and shower rooms involving or encouraging certain amounts of overt sex play. Young boys, usually pre adolescent, were involved, and evidently in the faculty several also knew of these Sandusky transgressions, including Joe Paterno, the almost legendary long term coach of the football team. Paterno almost overshadowed the President of the school with his many years of coaching, and he also refused to bring up the shameful shower events when rumors of these atrocities were being circulated. The reputation of of this 45,000 eminent university could not be besmirched by these awkward untoward events. And a very eminent statue to Paterno adorned the campus near the administration building, where the students rallied in support of their long time football coach in the face of these heinous suspicions. Paterno died soon after, at age 85, and the statue was removed because of Paterno’s indifference to the Sandusky shenanigans, which Paterno chose to ignore.

Penn State University did not, fortunately, ignore its’ obligations. After negotiation of about a year it announced that it was out about $59.7million to 26 young men who had valid claims in the sex crime atrocity. Meanwhile Sandusky is serving a 30 to 60 year state year sentence and is busy, even now, petitioning for appealing his sentence.

“Penn State had spent more than 50 million now on other costs related to the Sandusky scandal including lawyer’s fees, public relations, expenses, and adoptions of new policies relating to children and public relations expenses and sexual abuse complaints.”

8 man testified against Sandusky, describing a range of abuse that went from grooming and manipulation to fondling, oral and anal sex and rape, when they were older boys.

However, there is still a far greater cloud hanging over footballdom, and the granddaddy of the sport, the National Football League (NFL). The League has agreed to a $765 million settlement to a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families, largely because of the league’s concealing the knowledge known by the league of the possible cognitive damage of frequent brain trauma by head on collisions. As one retired player put it-----like an auto going a hundred miles an hour smashing into a solid brick wall. In this case probably a defensive back up lineman of over three hundred pounds!

The NFL insists that this large settlement is mainly for compassionate feelings to their fellow fallen players. Not to be construed as an admission of guilt by he league. The NFL is now stressing eliminating head and helmet butting as part of the defensive strategy----a not so easy approach when a speedy ball carrier in the open field must be strongly impeded to prevent a touchdown.

Enough of the glamour and glory of football is now being clouded out by these new dim events realized in post football adult life. Kids watching on TV are still enthralled by the long spiraling football being caught in the end zone ahead of the defender. And on TV replay there is general rejoicing—if it is your team---with both parent and child delighted. Indeed, football is the perfect reality sport, with replays and analysis frequently to quench your avid interest. But a not so quiet groundswell is forming among some “overprotective” parents. The question of allowing their children to play football receives a dubious shrugging of the shoulders at best. Generally the kids are still very eager and the parents dubious.

But no definitive random extensive testing of cognitive cranial health and welfare has been attempted. The NFL seems to insist that tackling that does not include head and helmet contact is not harmful. But there is still rather dubious head shaking. The long term view of football as a viable career is now is rather tenuous indeed, despite the rather generous financial rewards available.

Baseball, too, has negative problems with other aspects of the intruding elements of life. Namely steroids. Anabolic steroids, which spur a person’s metabolic rate, mostly increasing body muscular mass---bulking up. In some people in in a few years of steady use the results can be dramatic. Medical supervision must always be part of treatment. However, usually watchful waiting may all that is needed to gain a beneficial result with the proper dosage adhered to.

In the matter of baseball records the steroid era advent begins a new negative for the existing records, which are not without the improvement in many cases as steroids began to be used. It must be fully authenticated that Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record was more valid in the pre steroid era than the many bulked up steroid assisted hitters that came after Ruth. The Babe’s true symbol of baseball greatness was a plate full of hot dogs theoretically demolished in one festive sitting after one victorious game!

True enough the Babe appears to be somewhat potbellied but his life time baseball achievements, all pre steroid, are remarkable. He was a great pitcher before transferring to the outfield so he could use his great hitting ability every day. He seems to shine forth in this rather dire depiction of sports duplicity. We seem to overlook, at times, the tawdry and ineffectual in our search for the vicarious thrill of seeming miraculous achievement. There will always be in our inner being—our soul?-- the image of Babe Ruth pointing with his bat to deep center field in the face of a cheering, or jeering, crowd, and then hitting the winning home run precisely there!