Last week's scathing report that found Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and other top university officials covered up child sex abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago exposes shockingly abominable behavior nearly as morally bankrupt as the original criminal violations.
"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by university trustees to investigate the scandal. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."
Likewise disturbing had been how quickly supporters of the disgraced and now deceased Mr. Paterno angrily denounced those critical of the former coach, provoking a near riot on campus. Ordinarily, loyalty is an admirable quality - when the cause is honorable.
In Mr. Paterno's case, according to the 267-page report, his disregard for victims was "callous and shocking" in that it allowed Mr. Sandusky, a former assistant coach awaiting sentencing after having been convicted of 45 criminal counts for abusing 10 boys, to continue molesting his young victims.
Mr. Freeh's report underscores the worst aspect of sports, which our culture for far too long has regarded less as a pastime and more as a religion. We worship coaches like messiahs and players like saints and demigods - not just at Penn State, but on campuses and in living rooms across the country.
Such blind faith continuously encourages fans to overlook sin in virtually every discipline at virtually every level.
The illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs has contaminated professional baseball, football, bicycle racing, and track and field, to name a few sports; fans cheer when professional basketball players punch out their rivals; football players have been paid bounties to injure foes; hockey players routinely clobber opponents in ways that would result in assault charges on the street; tennis stars scream at or smash balls toward line judges.
Police have had to break up fights among soccer moms and dads, and to arrest parents for throwing objects and even pointing lasers into the eyes of opposing players.
College coaches, who are typically paid more than any 10 tenured professors and wield more power on campus than the president, have deliberately tripped opposing players running down the sidelines, encouraged players to cheat on exams and have angrily fought penalties that would keep an academically challenged team from playing in post-season tournaments.
And yet kids continue to line up for autographs, sponsors continue to pay professional athletes for commercial endorsements and fans continue to fill stadiums.
To be sure, most players and coaches throughout the land are honorable and embrace the value of hard but fairly fought competition.
And it's certainly possible to behave admirably while still sharing the sentiments of legendary coach Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
But when scandal destroys the legacy of one of the nation's most celebrated coaches, all those affiliated with the university and its football program - built on the motto "success with honor" - must examine where they failed.
They also must make real and symbolic changes - removing the campus statue of Mr. Paterno, for instance, would be a good place to start.
More challenging will be to de-deify football on campus - to acknowledge that it's an important part of the university, but not the most important. Beaver Stadium, the home of Penn State's Nittany Lions, is not hallowed ground - it is a place to play football.
Students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni must recognize that the sport is a false idol unworthy of misplaced faith.
These attitude shifts will help lead to redemption.