Usually I go to the sports sections of newspapers to get past all the depressing news of the front page. The sports section has stories about athletic feats. But lately, the sports section has (rightfully so) been burdened by college sports scandals.
First it was pay-for-play stories about Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton (now in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers), and then the stories of Ohio State University football players selling merchandise. More recently, the crimes have been much more egregious, beginning with former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly sexually molesting several young boys on and around the Penn State campus. Head coach Joe Paterno, who was always thought of as a stand-up guy you wanted your kid to play football for, admitted that he wishes he done more with the knowledge he had of the situation. And even more recently, Syracuse men's basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine was fired for allegedly sexually molesting young boys.
These are all secular schools making the news. I think these situations could unfortunately happen just as easily at Catholic and other faith-based institutions of higher education.
As Maureen Dowd of the New York Times was quick to point out in her Nov. 8 column, "Personal Foul at Penn State":
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Sports programs at Catholic institutions are no different. One of the first things that comes to mind for most people about the University of Notre Dame is their storied football program. The men's basketball programs at Marquette University, Georgetown University and Gonzaga University are paramount.
The men's basketball program at DePaul University (my alma mater) has been a team that other teams circle on their calendars for ending a losing streak, yet the games are still the big ticket at DePaul. These programs are ripe for the picking for small and possibly large immoral actions to take place.
All institutions have student athlete handbooks where the gist for a secular school is, "Our athletes will be taught to aspire to be better people not just on the athletic field, but also off the field." And the gist for student athlete handbooks at Catholic schools is along the lines of, "By teaching the faith of the Catholic church and Catholic moral values, our athletes will be taught to aspire to be better people not just on the athletic field, but also off the field."
More specifically, the University of Notre Dame student athlete handbook reads:
This is a similar section in the student athlete handbook at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
There is a spiritual component to the training that the University of Notre Dame is providing its student athletes compared to a secular, state school like the University of Wisconsin. However, all the programs want their athletes to succeed, become better people and build a foundation so that student athletes can contribute in life beyond the athletic field.
This leads me to believe that the morals and values that a school espouses will not prevent a tragedy like what has allegedly happened at Penn State University and Syracuse University. It seems it can happen anywhere, such as Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee.
The Chicago Tribune shed light on some claims that a woman made that she had been raped by a student athlete. She reported it to campus security officers, and they did not take the step of referring her to the Milwaukee Police Department. Marquette's faculty members are not shy to voice concern about how the university handled this and other incidents at the hands of student athletes:
As of November 2011, the U.S. Department of Education continues to investigate the situation at Marquette.
It all points out to us that our beloved Catholic institutions are not immune to some of the most heinous crimes by student athletes and their coaches.
Going back to Maureen Dowd's commentary on comparing the sex scandal and cover-up at Penn State to what we've seen in the Roman Catholic Church, the situation at Marquette seems to fall in line. The private, Catholic institutions out there are no different than the public, secular institutions.
The one thing all the schools share is a need for a deep reflection on what values are most important: covering up to win some extra football and basketball games and keep the revenue churning or take a long, reflective look at how we address issues of sexual violence that take place within the institutions we hold dear?
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