There's one tenet of sports fandom I hold most dear and it's also the reason I spend so much of my time talking about this subject: these games have almost zero effect on real life.
Yes, you're going to enter a mild depression when your football team of choice fumbles on the goal line or when that last-second three pointer rims out, but unless you're moronically betting large sums of money on these games, none of this affects you, the fan. And that, I've always thought, is also one of the greatest things about allowing oneself to love a sports team: none of it is real. It's just part of the sports world. Not the real world, and that's why it's always so easy for me to nonsensically vomit out jokes about sports in this column - none of it is real, so of course it's funny.
That tenet went out the window this week. I realized, as did most of this country, that sports have a way of making their way into the real world. I'm, of course, talking about the shockingly awful news that has come out of Penn State over the past couple weeks. I'm not a Penn State fan, but I do love college football, and this scandal added a sour aftertaste to Saturday's games. And those students who took to the streets to actually support a coach who, at the very least, didn't do enough to protect vulnerable young children from horrific acts - I understand that, too. They love their team and their coach. But they didn't realize that this had quickly become much, much larger than football and that it wasn't just the sports world watching them, but rather the real world.
This program has become so large, so full of money and tradition, so insular, so concerned with reputation that it appears to have allowed these incredible atrocities to go unpunished. I read the grand jury indictment of Jerry Sandusky and it's enough to turn your stomach and itch your tear ducts at the same time. You could say that this legal document has nothing really to do with football, but on the other hand, it appears to have everything to do with a football program.
Out on this side of the country, it was impossible not to look at our own successful programs and wonder if something like this could happen here. Oregon football is bigger than the Beatles right now and has been for some time. It has plenty of money and its own share of off-the-field problems, but nothing like this could ever happen, right? This was just one very sick bastard shielded by a bunch of people jaded by their own job titles, right? This is an isolated incident, right?
I think that's right. At least that's what I hope.
But one thing has changed, at least in my mind: sports can have everything to do with the real world. At least if we let them.