Outside of golf, the big sport story leading up to the Olympic Opening in 3 days is the sanctions handed down to the Pennsylvania State University yesterday in the wake of investigations and deliberations by the NCtwoA after pedophilic abuse convictions of Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky.
My history includes three major events that lead to my opining on the matter and to offer a couple of questions although I will add some other anecdotal history that I hope is interesting. All of us that love sport have our heroes and those that we admire for skill and perhaps also for grace and courage. I loved baseball before golf, golf had come to me in the early 1960's but not doggedly so until I gave up on baseball and more importantly idols. The place of sport and the men and women who play it in society is what really came under fire yesterday in Indianapolis at that press conference. That is the message that one should take from the events of yesterday. It was very sad to see some Penn State students commenting on how their beloved football had been taken away, I can't excuse the mindset of youth for that.
In the spring of 1962, I attended a pre-season baseball game in West Palm Beach, FL, that changed how I viewed sport forever in the course of perhaps 15 seconds. We all wanted to see Mickey Mantle, no one it seems wanted to see Roger Maris that or any day, Mickey was THE Man (You daMan!). He didn't play and over 300 of us waited for Mickey at the visitor's clubhouse door for probably 30 minutes, maybe more. Those of you that know me have might have heard the blue version, but that's not for here. Suffice it to say that 300 people kids, young adults, fathers, grand-parents - all were silent and walked away changed, me forever and unforgivingly so. I learned that maybe we ought not get so invested in someone of such character. Golf had its episode recently, too but now that so many sports fans are on board with golf winning seems to be all that matters.
In golf, I discovered an admirable, if not particularly pleasant man who was as strong an individual that I have encountered in the public realm who could be a hero, he remains one of my few today. Unfortunately, I never got to see him play but know or have known a dozen people who personally knew him including a man who bought his company, a company legendary for his dedication to quality and its mere association with his name. I played 3 sets of his irons over a course of over 30 years, only changing because I liked a new model better and needed new clubs. I admired this man for his dedication, his values and as a surgeon - for what he overcame in the primitive medical conditions of when he was injured. Obviously that man is Ben Hogan, the only man ever to win every Major Championship available to him in a calendar year - a feat in golf unmatched since. He overcame so much in his life personally and as he neared death and after we learned - psychologically so. There is no "greatest of all time" categorically, but he fits my set of criteria as a most remarkable man as well as golfer.
In an amazing sense of irony, I did not even play American Football (great big lug that I am) until my junior year of high school - living in Florida of all places. I had a funny little illness at age 18 months and my dear Mother was to be kind a bit protective. She finally reneged to my requests to play and I went from jayvee to starter at Defensive Tackle in less than a season. I didn't like like it, did not like the coaches teaching me ways to cheat and not get caught (rather goes against Golf's Ethos) and especially did not like those illegally blocking my 6'5" frame. I escaped injuries that season and never cared to play again, Basketball was far more important to me as well as the golf. So the basic tenets of American Football were not really consistent with how I viewed sport as we parted ways. I was also a student first, got to speak at Graduation Day.
I attended the University of Florida from 1969-1974, a true big time American College Football school as there is, certainly Top 10 for how importantly one associates the name of the school with Football above all else. I was in athletics, a non-scholarship athlete who chose, given the opportunity, to live in famed Yon Hall under the east stands of The Swamp, eat at the training table and live with the top athletes of that era of that fine (Academic & certainly sports) institution. I didn't do steroids and wouldn't so my potential as a shot putter was limited although I did throw a mildly respectable 54' 11" best. The best part of Yon Hall was meeting athletes and learning about how big time college athletics worked. I knew John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez - the dynamic QB -WR team that led UF from obscurity to Gator Bowl Championship in one season and saw the divergent paths each took. Reaves had a minor NFL Career with some bad luck and timing contributing to a long devolving personal horror story and Alvarez (Carlos Alvarez Vasquez Rodriguez Ubieta) declining to become a Dallas Cowboy to attend Law School and excel in his chosen field. I also more importantly learned first-hand just how inappropriate American College Football is viewed in America.
My days at Florida took a great turn when I quit the track team - Head Coach Jimmy Carnes had promised scholarship money to me if I reached a certain goal, (which I did my sophomore year) and reneged when I asked him about it. Karma* caught him in 1980. I went to play golf on my own time at the UF course for $33 per student quarter (about the cost of 3 dozen balls). This in that time allowed me to play with all the scholarship players such as Gary Koch, Andy North, Andy Bean, Fred Ridley, Woody Blackburn, Suzanne Jackson (UF's first great Lady Golfer who became a world-class rules official before leaving this world far too early at age 46) and non-scholarship try-out players, most notably "Fast Eddie" from Long Island. I am particularly proud to remember Suzanne as my good friend. I never even tried to try out; I knew after a few rounds with Koch that I had zero chance of reaching THAT level. I did get my 6 or more rounds in a week and nothing ever came close to golf in my heart after that. The Donald Ross gem we had available to play also really got my interest in design started. It was the first non-pancake (SoFL) course I got to know intimately. I have a Gator Golf Bag for caddies to carry, but it is for the Golf Team, no one else.
Fast forward to Denver Metro area 1987, fall, first "Full Pads Practice" for the Denver Broncos in Fort Collins, CO. Front page news, SRO. A couple of years later even what John Elway (the man who broke all of Reaves NCAA QB records, incidentally) gave out for Halloween candy was big news, his reaction to it being published might have even made the news. Anyway, the mis-placed idolatry for NFL Football came to the fore. I believe that summer day of full pad taught me the meaning of "Get a Life" as did no other event could. The bonus was that Saturday during CU Buffaloes (another big-time school for football) games and Sundays during Bronco games, I could play 3 hour rounds of golf. You can still find me on a golf course on Sundays in the fall after 1 p.m. wherever I am in America. Only GolfFans, not sports fans are out then.
So yesterday the NCAA made a statement about priorities, it might not have much impact, but they did make that statement and they reiterated that they did say so. Football unites families, but perspective is lost and I frankly find the start-stop nature of it annoying, I don't really watch except to be polite company. I prefer what the world calls football and we call soccer. It has an occasional great human being as a superstar, too. Didier Drogba of the Côte d'Ivoire, named by time as one of the world's Top 100 influential people for his role in abating civil war in his country. Certainly World Football has its problems with riots and racism, too.
Sport needs putting into perspective, maybe this set of actions can contribute. I personally have no grudge against Penn State, its many Alumni many very fine people, let me make that clear. Many Penn State Alumni are my friends, take no offense. My Florida brethren neither you as well, this is a national culture issue that I see needing address.
So my questions:
Do the vacated wins for 1988-2011 for Penn State affect in retrospect the contracts of the coaches and A.D. at Penn State? Certainly the main effect was to not reward Paterno as the "Winningest Coach of All-Time", but did the decision to vacate cause financial impact to those who knew or might have acted? Sport is a small community and to believe knowledge was limited to a very few is challenging to believe.
Is America ready to put academics and sport in proper perspective at least at the College level? (Tuition has historically been several thousand dollars more for Penn State College Station (Main PSU Campus) students than any other Pennsylvania public University, little wonder why. I make a plea to education at all costs, especially Science, Math and non-English language studies, that is why we should go to University.
Finally - My condolences go out to the unknowing punished by all of this and those unintendedly harmed - the game day sellers, the swag merchants, the hawkers of team rah-rah stadium favors. There is always unfortunate collateral damage in any action.
A perhaps unimportant note is that Jimmy Carnes Karma* payoff was that he was named Head Athletics Coach for Team USA in 1980. For those that forget, James Earl Carter did not allow the USA Athletes to attend the Olympic games in Moscow. A totally hollow appointment, just desserts.