Even the most zealous fans of Penn State football should agree that coach Joe Paterno, in an interview on today's Outside the Lines, looked out of touch when he accused an ESPN journalist of being on a "witch hunt" for questioning the outrageous number of PSU football players arrested since last year.
Simply because of his tenure in the business, Paterno should know better than anyone that welcoming media attention when all is well, and then condemning the same reporters when the news isn't so good, isn't smart or responsible.
The ESPN story put a bright spotlight on the unusually high number of arrests involving Paterno's players during the past year. We need more -- not less -- investigative journalism in sports.
The OTL story has its own problems; for instance, it characterizes the off-field situation as a "trend," presenting overall numbers since 2002 that are startling. Broken down year-by-year, however, 2007's unusually high number is cause for alarm, but not necessarily part of a trend, as the number is more than three times as high as the previous year. (We're not told why ESPN chose 2002 as a starting point. Also helpful for context would have been more information about the types of bad off-field behavior -- how much involved non-violent misdemeanors? How many were felonies? How does the rate compare to arrest rates for the student body?)
The story also failed to put Penn State in context within the college sports culture. How does Penn State compare to other D1 schools (and not over just a single season)? Stepping back and looking at the big picture: Are Penn State's problems a reflection of the missteps of a single coach -- or might they signify larger problems with big-time football programs across the country? How do football programs in general compare with other sports?
The limited research on the relationship between off-field violence and male college athletes in revenue sports tells us that there is a problem -- but it goes beyond a single program or coach.
That's the bigger, and more important, story -- but one that would force us to look at the entire college sports culture in a more critical way than many want to do, I suspect.