More Outside The Lines Reactions

(Greetings, The Big Lead readers!  When you're done with this post on the Outside The Lines story about Penn State, why not also check out our previous takes on the subject, notably "Rest Assured, Stephen A. Smith In Your Outrage" and "You Can't Take The Effect And Make It The Cause".)

The effects of the Outside the Lines are still being picked apart in the message boards and the editorial columns over a week after it ran. The general consensus seems to be much-a-do about nothing. So you would figure the World Wide Leader would go dig up something to demonstrate their ability to ruin people's lives. Gotta do what you gotta do to win those Emmy Awards I guess.

ESPN went hunting down some of our verbal commits from Maryland to see if anyone was changing their minds. They came up empty of course. So then they talked to the parents.

"Me and my mother watched it. It didn't really have an affect on me because I know what I can do and what I'm going through," said Derrick Thomas of Greenbelt Eleanor Roosevelt. "It doesn't really change my mind at all. I still like Penn State and I'm still with it."

While that sentiment is shared by the other athletes, Thomas' mother did not agree.

"To see all that stuff happening there, I really worry. At this point I don't really want him to go to that school. I know you can't run away because trouble is everywhere, but to see that they have a coach and a coaching staff that is not doing what they need to do to keep this stuff from happening really worries me," Angela Thomas said. "I don't want my son to attend a school where there's no guidance. When he's away from me I want him to have a role model to keep him in line."

According to an ESPN analysis of Pennsylvania court records and reports, since 2002, 46 Penn State players have faced 163 criminal charges. All told, 27 players have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a combined 45 charges.

All of which makes Thomas more than a little concerned.

"I am. Honestly, I am." Angela Thomas said. "I'm going to have to have a serious talk with him. I'm definitely not leaving it up to him. We all need to sit down and talk about this because I just want the best for my son and I need to see what type of options he wants to have right now because Penn State, to me, is not a good option."

Anyone else get the impression the Maryland coaches are mailing copies of the Outside the Lines piece out to all the instate kids and their parents on DVD?

But not everyone came away from the OTL piece convinced Penn State is the new Thug U. The Harrisburg Patriot ran an editorial column this past weekend featuring Dr. John S. Nichols, a professor of communications at Penn State and a member of the steering committee on Intercolligiate Athletics. First let's lay out his credentials.

Intercollegiate athletics are seriously undermining the core academic mission of many universities, and the current rash of off-field misbehavior by athletes is just one indication.

As a longtime Penn State faculty member and an activist in a national movement for athletics reform, I am keenly aware of and concerned about the problems faced by educational institutions competing in big-time sports -- particularly my own university.

This is a man that knows what he is talking about when it comes to intercollegiate athletics. So why wasn't ESPN interested in what he had to say?

ESPN approached me twice to appear on camera and discuss my views of the recent off-field misbehavior by some Penn State players. So, why was I not taped by ESPN and why were my views not heard on the program? The almost certain answer: My point of view on the problem did not agree with ESPN's predetermined story line.

When I first was contacted late last year and agreed to the interview, it was clear that the ESPN reporter already had reached a fixed and negative conclusion about what he would find in his "investigation." Despite ample opportunity to produce a more accurate depiction of the problems at Penn State and, more generally, intercollegiate athletics nationwide, ESPN chose to report only elements that supported its starting assumptions.

You've probably noticed since this story broke I've been pretty silent on this issue choosing to let RUTS and Kevin do the talking and allow the conversation run its course in the comments. That's because I've struggled to wrap my arms around this and put it into words I felt properly summarized the situation. Thankfully, Dr. Nichols does it for me.

Penn State football is far from perfect. The recent off-field behavior of some players is an embarrassment and should not be tolerated. Aggressive actions must be taken to remedy the situation.

Moreover, Penn State is not immune to the intense economic and cultural pressures that have consumed intercollegiate athletics nationwide. Those negative external forces clearly weigh heavily on Penn State and, as a result, the university's athletics program is showing signs of stress.

But Penn State is making a serious effort to stem the negative tide that is corrupting college sports and their parent universities. For example, Penn State's athletics governing board is part of the faculty senate, subjecting intercollegiate athletics to considerable faculty oversight and control. At many peer universities, the athletics board is outside any serious academic control and is frequently the turf of sports boosters and jock-sniffers.

Penn State's official representative to the NCAA is a professor of sports ethics and one of the most thoughtful and effective national voices on the problems currently confronting intercollegiate athletics. Penn State's president and athletic director are committed to maintaining integrity and high academic standards in the athletic program.

Ultimately, the source of the problem and its remedy is not inside the walls of any individual university. It is a serious national problem that is in urgent need of a national solution. Individual universities fielding big-time sports programs differ only in the degree to which they are willing and able to fight these negative external pressures.

That's why ESPN's focus on the recent problems at Penn State is unfair and misleading. Penn State is a national leader in trying to conduct athletics the right way and should be recognized for that commitment.

And THAT is why Dr. Nichols is a communications professor and I'm just a sorry-ass blogger. Bravo, Dr. Nichols.

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