This press gaggle/flash mob/media orgy, whatever it was from the other night following news that Penn State’s famous Coach Paterno may be pushed out after allegations of sexual abuse within his program offers a very interesting snapshot of the interaction between fans, news media, sports journalists (yes, I offer them as separate institutions) and sports stars, such as Paterno.
At random rallies to save Paterno from disaster, students and sports fans gathered to yell, among other things, to keep him on as coach. Indeed, the students yelled, they “need him.” Paterno replied: “I need you” and then seemed to turn to a photojournalist and other reporters and said, “And I need you.”
What does that mean? Do we really need him? He needs me? I feel abused.
But what about the press needing Paterno to a) bring home wins for good play in the paper, b) say anything that they can print and put on CNN for a voyeuristic audience, and c) give access to reporters to sports events, topics, quotes, perspectives, and whatever else the sports media machine desires.
Without these things, news media would be working outside what’s popular, what’s cool, what’s newsy.
But the trick is, sports journalism as a whole fails at being newsy. How did we not know about these allegations before? How many reporters knew these allegations were out there and did nothing, possibly to save face for the sports program and to keep sports reporters in line — reporting all they are “supposed” to report on: scores, personalities, merchandizing.
By giving Paterno-opponents such voice in recent days, media are now calling for him to resign or be fired. Others needs to be fired, too. Trustees? The university President? Other coaches? Staff members?
What about journalists? Who the hell missed this scoop? And, more importantly, where are journalists in any kind of sports journalism that looks for problems (racial and economic inequality of those playing on the football field, for example.
What Paterno’s players needed was support from the university and the football staff, for sure. But they also needed a news media (a sports news media) that goes deeper, asks hard questions, and gets out of the proverbial bed with the people they cover.