Fifty years ago, the evil of segregation was enough to get students to organize a football boycott. But today, the evil of child abuse – allegedly hidden, and thus perpetuated, by football coaches themselves – is not. Ditto for all the other well-documented scandals in the sport, including secret payments to students and the padding of their academic transcripts.
To be fair, Penn State students held a vigil for victims of child sexual abuse on the night before the matchup with Nebraska. They also wore dark blue to the game, in further recognition of the victims. And the players knelt in prayer after taking the field.
Yet the larger point is that they did take the field, and over 100,000 spectators cheered as they did. Some of them waved banners in praise of fired coach Joe Paterno, whom many students seem to regard as a victim in his own right; others held signs remembering the children who were abused. But both sides assumed that the game must go on.
That’s been the typical student response to every bit of other bad news about college football. Yes, it’s bloated and corrupt; but it’s ours. And it must continue, at all costs.
That wasn’t always the case. Across the 20th century, as universities developed big-time football programs, students often protested the energy, time, and money devoted to the sport. They didn’t always get their way, but they made their voices heard.