In the latest in the publisher’s Sport and Society series, a retired Pennsylvania State University history professor explores the past, present, and future of major sports, especially football, at Penn State.
The book is inextricably tied to the disclosure in 2011 that Jerry Sandusky, a longtime Penn State assistant football coach, had been sexually molesting boys, often finding them through a philanthropic organization he had founded decades earlier. Sandusky is now serving prison time because of those molestations, but the fallout did not stop with Sandusky's imprisonment nor with the traumatized boys and their loved ones. Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, now deceased, suffered a significant stain on his previously sterling reputation and lost his job, along with the university president and two high-ranking administrators who reported to the president but allegedly covered up the extent of their knowledge about Sandusky's predatory behavior. Using Penn State archives and other research materials, Smith traces how football, and specifically Paterno, gained unquestioned influence on the campus. When delineating that accumulation of influence over the past 100 years, the author provides admirable research, complete with illuminating anecdotes. However, when Smith enters the legal and moral thickets of the Sandusky case, he falters, rarely revealing anything fresh beyond the massive media coverage that followed the allegations. There is no clear indication that Smith gained access to Sandusky, Paterno before his death, the fired administrators, the prosecutors, the defense lawyers, or the judges handling various criminal charges. The author’s personal knowledge of the university does provide occasional unique insights, and the 14-page timeline is a useful guide.
The mostly dry prose might be unappealing to anybody beyond avid Penn State fans and a somewhat larger potential audience whose members want to understand the dominance of football and basketball at institutions of higher learning.