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Penn State, Sandusky, and Paterno: When did football kill student activism?

It wasn't always like this. Throughout college football's history, students and players have boycotted games in protest of evils like segregation and racism. But what about alleged child sex abuse? Now, students seemed lulled into thinking that 'king football' must continue, at all costs.

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In November 1961, newspapers reported that the Rose Bowl might invite the University of Alabama – the top-ranked college football team in the nation – to play the West Coast Conference champion, UCLA. Citing Alabama’s segregationist policies on the field and off, UCLA students called for a boycott of the game if Alabama were selected.

The boycott was endorsed by the UCLA student newspaper, which ran a cartoon of the school mascot dressed as a Union soldier charging into battle in the Civil War. The mascot was carrying a banner, which bore a stark declaration: “We don’t want Alabama!” Led by the star African-American fullback, Kermit Alexander, several members of the football team also pledged to sit out if Alabama were invited.

Alabama’s president soon took his university out of the running, noting the “political risk” of playing in the Rose Bowl. And that was all because of the students at UCLA, who insisted that football take a back seat to the bigger issues at stake.

Compare that to recent events at Penn State, and you’ll see how profoundly we’ve lost our way. Despite reports of child sexual abuse by a former coach – and the covering up of the same by university officials – students filled Penn State’s stadium last Saturday to watch the Nittany Lions in their final home game. We can expect the same at Ohio State and Wisconsin, which will host the Lions’ last two contests.


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