O’ROURKE: Why Yale isn’t Penn State

Last week, a horrendous scandal rocked Pennsylvania State University as the football team’s former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing at least eight boys since 1994. Some students, apparently callous to the victims’ suffering, rioted after university trustees fired Joe Paterno, the beloved head coach, for his failure to investigate earlier allegations. Could the Yale community ever similarly embarrass itself?

I doubt it, but not because Yale students are morally superior to our peers at other institutions. We need not worry because we do not entrust the football team with our reputations and self-worth. The Game will fill the Yale Bowl with screaming fans, but, fortunately, the final score will not have a lasting impact on most of us.

Several disquieting parallels can be drawn between Penn State and Yale. Our recently released campus climate report endorsed a training program on bystander intervention. Penn State graduate assistant Mike McQueary could have used such training when, in 2002, he walked in on Sandusky allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy. McQueary testified that he ran away to call his dad, who suggested talking to the infamously disinterested Paterno, instead of stopping the assault and calling the police.

Penn State’s recent scandal is hardly the first case of an apotheosized football team tarnishing a major national university. I grew up in South Bend, Ind., immersed in everything Notre Dame. In late 2010, the Notre Dame football team was connected to two student deaths.

Most egregiously, hard-charging coach Brian Kelly ordered an outdoor practice during extremely high winds. A junior who was filming practice died when his scissor lift blew over. Just before ascending the lift, he tweeted, “Gust of wind up to 60mph will be fun at work … I guess I’ve lived long enough.”

One month earlier, a freshman at nearby St. Mary’s College committed suicide days after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault. Notre Dame police waited more than two weeks to interview the football player, who never faced criminal charges.

Undoubtedly, Yale students face many morally fraught issues. Our sexual culture is imperfect; many of us would shy away from possible awkwardness instead of telling our classmates when they cross from assertive to objectionable behavior. Still, even the most misogynistic DKE brother, one presumes, would intervene to stop blatant child rape. Chief Higgins would never stonewall a sexual assault investigation to protect a Yale athlete.

When I first visited Yale, I was amazed that the storied, beautiful Yale Bowl was located so far from Old Campus. Notre Dame’s stadium anchors its residential and academic facilities. Now, I am glad that Yale students are comparatively disinterested in athletics, although I have certainly enjoyed being a fan in the stands at everything from football to field hockey.

Instead of cleaving our happiness to the fortunes of a small subset of our classmates, we fight our own battles on diverse fields. Dwight Hall hosts scores of organizations because Yale students want to practice leadership more than to join one of a few large — and probably more efficient — community service providers. Triumphs in laboratories and in local elections seem more epic and historic than anything broadcast on ESPN.

Casey Gerald ’09 wrote eloquently on this page Tuesday about the football team’s deep brotherhood. He confirmed what I learn from friends on varsity teams: Athletes have extraordinary motivation, talent and generosity.

All Yalies, however, should be part of such tight-knit groups, rather than simply idolizing a traditional, gender-segregated example. You can be an active participant in something bigger than yourself. In fact, finding camaraderie and struggling in something you actually care about is essential to the Yale experience.

Professional spectating, like Penn State and Notre Dame students do for their football teams, risks misdirecting our passion towards arbitrary goals like a win-loss record. Taken to the extreme, well-intentioned people will cover up sexual abuse and contribute to student deaths.

On Saturday, the Yale community will reunite with old friends in competition against a boisterous mob from Harvard. Two football teams will battle for seemingly eternal glory in front of television cameras and tens of thousands of screaming fans. But after the Game, we will get off the sidelines and resume pursuit of our unique dreams. Attending Yale athletics is a blast, but, ultimately, we are our own champions.

Joseph O’Rourke is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at joseph.orourke@yale.edu.


  • River_Tam

    > Could the Yale community ever similarly embarrass itself?

    We still employ Harold Bloom. Just because we don’t deify sports doesn’t mean we don’t deify anything.

    • ohno

      Hear, hear.

      • anonymouz

        Bloom should be fired for a lot of reasons, including his recent incoherent rant that I guess had something to do with Mormonism and was thinly veiled as a New York Times article.

  • Bianon

    Yale is hardly immune from nepotism, power imbalances, extreme career ambitions or corporate influences. Recent history exposes similar tragedies at Yale. For many men and women at Penn State, as is the case at Yale, football and sports are insignificant.

  • RexMottram08

    Bill Summers.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Employ” Harold Bloom? That is like employing the wind, or the tide, or the ocean. His creative output is and has been a force of Intellectual Nature.

    • whatwhat

      doesn’t excuse his sexual harrassment of students

    • SY10

      Call his creative output whatever you like, but when Yale pays him and provides him with an office (and various other resources), in exchange for his teaching and other “creative output,” that would generally be called “employing” him.

    • River_Tam

      Thank you for proving my point, Paul. You excuse Bloom’s conduct because of his intellectual output, just as Penn State students excuse Paterno’s conduct because of his coaching skills. (Just as Democrats and self-proclaimed “feminists” embarrassed themselves by excusing Bill Clinton’s conduct because of his political leanings.)

  • The Anti-Yale

    Alleged conduct.
    This is still America.

    • concerned

      Paul, for your benefit, I suggest authorities try to genotype/fingerprint samples of the clap he allegedly gave to some of his alleged victims.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I refuse to dignify gossip with my attention

    . I you wish to live in the nightmare world of accusations, that is your choice and your fate..

    • River_Tam

      > I refuse to dignify gossip with my attention

      Accusations and gossip are not the same thing. No grand jury has found anyone guilty in the Penn State case either.

    • Dedwards

      TheAntiYale, you need to stop saying stupid s— like “I refuse to dignify gossip with my attention.” Let’s be honest, your attention probably doesn’t mean much.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Quite True.

    And we (myself included) have already tried and convicted the accused in the court of public opinion.

    I am ashamed of myself.

    • River_Tam

      I have no trouble convicting someone in the court of public opinion as long as there’s a court of actual laws to go with it.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I’m still ashamed of myself for doing so.

    • jinjdkla

      cool story bro. seppuku time?

      • The Anti-Yale

        Why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword?

        Macbeth (V, viii)


  • JE15

    I don’t think it’s fair to make sweeping generalizations about Penn State and Notre Dame students. Notre Dame especially, as a Catholic school, has many non-athletic organizations that promote camaraderie and community.

    I also disagree with the premise that the Yale athletic staff, administration, and student body would have handled a similar situation any better than Penn State did. You’re right, we’re not Penn State, but that’s because we’re academically superior, not morally superior.

  • EricPatridge

    I appreciate the acknowledgments that Penn State & JoePa have been tried in the Court of Public Opinion. Perhaps even more so in the Court of Sensationalized Media, which isn’t the same as Public Opinion. I hope there will be a process for all of the truth to come out; apparently the statewide grand jury is a one-way process that doesn’t invite defense questions.

    As a Yalie who obtained my PhD at Penn State, I am embarrassed for the University if any of the allegations are true. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if a cover up did happen there — I was quite active in helping to pressure the University to investigate Rene Portland in 2005/2006.

    Penn State aside, if you notice, there are child sex abuse cases popping up everywhere as a result of these events — including Syracuse now. Back to Pennsylvania: The Department of Welfare had child abuse reports skyrocket after the case broke — to 4,832 reports in one week alone. This isn’t an isolated incident. I will suggest that current events are actually highlighting a larger problem that permeates across our culture. Child sex abuse (nay — all abuse) is horrible, and victims deserve a better reporting process/climate than we offer.

  • Hallux

    If Paterno is “infamously disinterested” do you mean that he is fair to a fault? When you write that “Yale students are comparatively disinterested in athletics”, do you mean that Yalies are more likely to serve as referees and umpires?

    If not, then perhaps you and your editors at the YDN should spend a little less time championing yourselves and review some basic grammar:

    “Disinterested” means “unaffected by self-interest”.
    “Uninterested” means “not having or showing interest”.

  • morgan007

    Why Yale Isn’t Penn State? Seriously? Were you not around for this:

    Yale Is Subject of Title IX Inquiry
    Published: March 31, 2011

    A group of 16 people who filed a Title IX complaint against Yale University last month said on Thursday that the federal Department of Education had launched an investigation to review Yale’s policies for dealing with sexual harassment and assault cases.

    The group, which includes current and former students, noted an episode in October when they said members of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon marched around chanting misogynistic and sexually derogatory slogans.

    On Thursday, the group said the school’s “inadequate response” failed to eliminate a “hostile sexual environment on campus,” which violated the federal gender-equity law Title IX. It also accused Yale of failing to properly address previous cases of harassment and assault.

    The federal inquiry was first reported in The Yale Herald. Phone calls to Yale and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights were not immediately returned late Thursday.