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Four Reasons to Watch the Super Bowl
Posted on Feb 2, 2012
By Robert Lipsyte, TomDispatch
Tebow is too true to be good. His religious principles may eventually even get in the way of money-making. Playing for a higher team, he is a threat to owners who can’t buy him off (although he has plenty of commercial endorsements, thank you—and Republican presidential contenders are lining up).
He may also disrupt the fantasies of fans.
Dan Levy, writing in Bleacherrport.com, put it well: “Because his faith is so prevalent and because his beliefs have become so much of who he is on and off the field, it’s nearly impossible to separate the two. Can you blindly root for Tim Tebow on the football field without, in turn, tacitly rooting for him in life? And does rooting for him in life—even if that simply means rooting for the underdog to succeed—include implicit approval of his beliefs? Are Broncos fans able to parse the player from the man, the quarterback from the evangelist?”
If he were playing Sunday, it undoubtedly wouldn’t be the Super Bowl, but the Tebowl.
3. JoePa will be there: Once held up as the gold standard of college football coaching, now as the hero of a classical tragedy, the late Joe Paterno will be represented on Sunday by three players and his successor as head coach at Penn State. They will be reminders of what Paterno really represented beneath the iconic image.
The three players, almost a thousand pounds worth of them, are Jimmy Kennedy, a 302-pound defensive tackle, and Kareem McKenzie, a 330-pound tackle—both Giants—and Rich Ohrenberger, a 300-pound guard for the Patriots, who is on injured reserve. Boston College with six players in the Super Bowl and Rutgers with five lead this year’s honors list of colleges that serve as NFL minor league feeder teams, but Penn State has been a perennial supplier of meat on the hoof. No wonder the school has been dubbed Linebacker U.
Paterno became head coach in 1966, the year before the first Super Bowl. At least one player he coached has been in every one of the 46 Super Bowls. He produced several hundred pro players. At the start of this past season, there were 36 Nittany Lions on NFL rosters.
In other words, Penn State was a football factory as well as a research university, which made Paterno the Geppetto of those over-sized puppets, even while he was touted as a classics scholar (he identified with Aeneas) and a philanthropist—he donated $4 million to Penn State. (How does a coach get that kind of dough?)
His successor will be Bill O’Brien, the current Patriots offensive coordinator. Though he graduated from Brown, as did Paterno, O’Brien has no connection to the Penn State program, which has angered some people, reassured others. A number of former players have threatened to sever their ties with the university because the school went “outside the family” for a new coach, an act seen as a total repudiation of the Paterno era. Others felt that a rigorous cleansing was necessary. After all, Paterno had apparently known for almost 10 years that Jerry Sandusky, once his main assistant and presumed heir, was an alleged child molester. Paterno tossed the matter upstairs and continued to devote his attention to Aeneas and linebackers, while Sandusky allegedly raped more little boys.
Paterno’s powers of concentration or expedience or denial were extraordinary enough, it seems, to qualify for presidential nomination. In his last interview, he implied that he probably couldn’t fully process the tale he was told about Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the football team’s shower-room because he knew nothing about male-on-male rape.
4. You can occupy the Super Bowl: One of the Penn State trustees who voted to fire Paterno, Kenneth C. Frazier, said this: “[E]very adult has a responsibility for every other child in our community. We have a responsibility for ensuring that we can take every effort that’s within our power not only to prevent further harm to that child but to every other child.”
Frazier, of course, was referring to the lack of leadership—the lack of humanity—at Penn State that allowed fealty to an institution and the power it offers to trump individual responsibility. It was an it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child sort of statement. It’s worth keeping in mind as you watch the Super Bowl, because the subject Frazier raised goes far beyond the charges against Sandusky or the lack of leadership Paterno and others exhibited in the case. It includes our neglect, denial, and often encouragement of all the blows to the head that every football player—from peewee to pro—routinely suffers.
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