Perspective from Arizona: How the Joe Paterno cult following takes fandome too far

EVANSTON, IL - FILE: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions gets worked up on a touchdown by wide receiver Deon Butler after falling behind the Northwestern Wildcats in the first half on September 24, 2005 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. According to reports on November 9, 2011, Paterno will step down as head coach at the end of the season amid allegations that former assistant Jerry Sandusky was involved with child sex abuse. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Forget Joe Paterno for a second.

Let's go to Tucson, Arizona on April 2, 2001.

University of Arizona students were pissed. Duke had beaten Arizona 82-72 in the NCAA Championship game, and given an excuse to get drunk and angry, Arizona Wildcats fans took to the streets, setting fires, rioting -- you know, college kid things.

Some of them watched the game. Probably most of them knew why they were out there, damaging properties, acting like hooligans.

You know those ESPN "It's Just Sports" commercials? It was that, on a greater scale.

I was tweeting yesterday with a Duke fan who graduated in 2001. The Blue Devil fans rioted on April 2, 2001, too. School pride is a funny thing. Through thick and thin, every once in a while, a community has got to come together to burn some stuff down. That happened at Arizona and Duke that night. Dumb as it might be, it was all for a game.

In college, when we identify with a mascot, a couple of colors and a mission to learn party, it's easy to overlook that, yes, we're acting wild because of a game. 

But that's why we have Homecoming. It's why we want to vomit when somebody wears maroon and gold. It's embedded into American culture.

That's great.

But really, Penn State? Following the firing of Joe Paterno in the midst of a sexual assault scandal, students took to the streets, doing the exact same thing that Duke and Arizona fans did because of a game.

Well, you've heard everything about how that's bad. They're missing the point. The point is that Paterno -- not just Paterno, by the way -- didn't take information about possible sexual assault to children seriously enough. We know this.

So what's to take of this?

Let's take note that we're sometimes so washed up in a culture -- Penn State football tradition, Arizona and Duke basketball tradition -- that we don't think. That cult-following, an ideology that grew around a football coach, apparently clouds so much of morality that students didn't think twice about how (whether we think Paterno could have done more or not) a coach was removed because the school had no choice.

They had no choice because this was about childrens' lives being ruined.

Yeah, I'm not sure I would participate in a riot if a basketball team wins or loses a national championship. It'd be kind of fun, if not idiotic. OK, I probably would, just for the hell of it.

But let's not let a figurehead or a cultural icon become so important to us that we overlook morality.

That's the lesson that we've got to learn from this.

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