A problem of Hero Worship - Freeh Report and Penn State

So who is guilty and what was the problem at Penn State? What kind of culture of leadership has to be in place to report a crime, especially a crime of this nature?

This is not about the university having poor systems of oversight, a crime this repulsive is about the failings of these 4 men. All of whom demonstrated themselves to be cowards and certainly not worthy of the positions that they once held.

Having just wrote a book on champions in sport and concluding, among other things that we need great sports stars and leaders of business to help us dream and push our limits, I sit here horrified at the Louis Freeh Report further implicating Joe Paterno, former coach at Penn State and 3 other top level university officials.

A coach whose career inspired thousands of former players to reach their goals and dreams has now been shown, at least for the last 10 years not to be that champion coach. In fact, if accurate the Freeh report suggests coach Paterno is complicit in heinous and gut wrenching crimes against children. His failings were not just the standard recruiting violations which could be shrugged off as poor judgment and forgiven with a few mea culpas, his lack of immediate action in this case has no excuses.

Next, 3 university officials including the president of the university were also shown to have known about and discussed this issue behind closed doors. Yet, none of them picked up a phone and dialed 911? All of them wondered what should be done next and how to respond? Graham Spanier, PhD university president was worried that if Sandusky did not hear their message that "we then become vulnerable for not reporting it." (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 2012). What kind of leaders were these three men? Imagine, university leaders blinded by their adulation of a football coach and a football program?

With respect to the culture of sport and athletics, I believe the problem lies partly in the idea of hero worship. There are bad people everywhere and mistakes made every day, but when sport and "legends" of sport are involved suddenly attitudes change. For some reason, people think athletes and in this case a great coach and a big program are special and and by definition above such behavior. The same assumptions are made about corporate CEOs and university presidents. This problem goes right into the heart of society and our perceptions of ourselves and other people. Tragically, the actions of these 4 men would most likely have been repeated over and over again by many other similar groups of 4 men.

Hero worship not only holds the worshipers back from progressing and reaching their potential, but it clouds their judgement. If the Freeh report is fully vetted, these 3 men should spend a lot of time in jail. Next, underneath the statue of Joe Paterno at the Penn State Campus a new bronze plate should be struck with the words: "Winning Football Coach - Former leader of young men - One time great coach - Destroyer of Dreams and Lives".

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