Attesting to the power of media, Jerry Sandusky's first public interview after the Penn State scandal broke (and head coach Joe Paterno was fired after a glorious half century) was with Bob Costas. In this interview Sandusky admitted only to "horseplay," not sexual misconduct. (Interestingly, this Sunday Syracuse also fired Bernie Fine, Assistant Basketball coach, for molesting boys). Many Penn State students voiced disappointment over their institution's dented reputation. But consider a different reaction from fans of the football team. They expressed their resentment over the firing of Paterno; over 109,000 fans thronged the football stadium at a recent game that the team lost. Surely this solidarity is noble, deserving of admiration. Still we must ask anew, Is sport fandom as likely to distort moral compasses as to build character, as customarily supposed? In extreme instances, this distortion is alarming and poorly understood. Students not only rallied for Paterno; some went so far as to overturn a WTAJ newsvan on campus, as though blaming the media for spotlighting the scandal. The Penn State scandal is only one extreme example: Americans will remember images of O.J. Simpson in his white Bronco on the highway as fans crowded onto the freeway cheering him even though they knew he was a suspect in the alleged murder of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Such admittedly extreme cases prompt the question, How could fans allow their fandom to override a fundamental human sympathy with the real victims? (Contrast with the Catholic Church scandal.)
One common rationalization for bad behavior from fans is to shrug one's shoulders and say boys will be boys (more or less Sandusky's lawyer's comment about Sandusky himself). This underestimates the cultural significance (signifying power) of sports, fails to appreciate how deeply fans invest their self-images, their ego ideals, in sport. This is particularly significant with masculine identities and football. There is also an ethical requirement for fans to ask what it is that they are so passionately defending if not something critical to their identities, to ask themselves if in vehement support of "JoePa" they are investing their sympathies/identities on the wrong side of an ethical (from "ethos") line. My question for readers: are there effective ways to use (social) media to encourage fans/protestors to be motivated less by possible hurt to football and moved more by possible physical or psychic damage to the 8 boys Sandusky allegedly molested over 15 years?