Jonathan Zimmerman: Of Boys and Big-Time Sports

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author, most recently, of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at

Off with their heads!

That's our natural reaction to the repugnant reports about Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year span. We want blood, and we want it now.

And we're getting it. Revered coach Joe Paterno and longtime university president Graham Spanier were fired Wednesday night. The university's athletic director and a senior vice president, facing charges that they covered up Sandusky's alleged crimes, have already stepped down. What did they know, we ask, and when did they know it?

These are important questions, and we deserve answers to them. But they also divert us from two much bigger issues that we prefer not to address: the perverse role of athletics in American education, and the ingrained sexism of our society.

If Sandusky hadn't been part of a big-time college football program, would he have been allowed to continue consorting with young boys? Not a chance. And if Sandusky's victims had been girls instead of boys, would the allegations have generated such nationwide attention and outrage? No way....

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