Bradley still has work to do

Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley answers questions at yesterday's news conference.
Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley answers questions at yesterday's news conference. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: November 16, 2011

I AM SURE there are some people who take offense that interim Penn State football coach Tom Bradley said he did not watch the interview with former defensive coordinator and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky.

I'm sure Bradley's reason - that he was too busy doing film study for the upcoming game with Ohio State - will be viewed by some as business as usual for the football program at Happy Valley.

It was, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Yesterday, Bradley met the media for the school's weekly news conference about Penn State football, and for the most part, that's how things went.

I'm sure some people are offended by that. I'm sure some people think talking about football only adds to the tragedy and turmoil that has engulfed the campus since the child-abuse scandal broke.

I'm not sure what else Bradley was supposed to do.

"Basically, asked me to do a job and that's what I plan on doing," Bradley said. "That's what I told my players. Players play. Coaches coach. Administrators administrate.

"There is a big game coming up. These players are excited for the game. There's a responsibility that we have, not only to Penn State, but to the players, to the parents, to their high school coaches.

"To everybody that is involved with that kid, we made a commitment and we're going to follow through with that commitment."

There are those who would say that train of thought only adds to the overinflation of the worth of sports in our culture. Even as a sports columnist, I don't disagree with that.

But there is a place for sports to just be about sports. I didn't join yesterday's teleconference to hear what Bradley had to say about Sandusky, child molestation or even disposed coaching legend Joe Paterno.

Of course, I knew those issues would came up. How could they not after the most horrific scandal in collegiate athletics history was revealed? But for the most part, my interest as a sports columnist is to see how Penn State football is coping with extraordinary adversity while preparing for a game that could help determine the Big Ten championship.

I don't think there was anything wrong with that. Sometimes, I stray into the real world, but what I do primarily is write about sports. A football coach talking about football at a preset football media conference does not ridicule the tragedy that is playing out. It doesn't dismiss issues that far outweigh Nittany Lions football.

We know what's more important, but if we are going to have athletics, then we can't get upset if coaches and players seek a sense of normalcy by doing what they do.

"We talked briefly [on Monday] about the game and where we are headed," Bradley said. "I think . . . with all the things that swirl around, [the players] enjoy coming to practice because it is the one time that they can have to themselves.

"No one is asking them questions. They are there to play football. They know we have a job to do because we are still in the hunt for this Big Ten championship."

Of course, that does not matter in the big picture. The little pictures, however, are part of the complete narrative.

You can argue that because of the seriousness of the scandal, the administration should have canceled the remainder of the season. It's a compelling stance, not without merit. Still, once the call was made that games would go on, the members of the program have the right to continue on. They shouldn't be made to feel embarrassed, guilty or less compassionate if they refocus their attention to try to win the Big Ten championship.

How is a junior football player at Penn State thinking more about Ohio State than the scandal any different than a sports reporter or a fan focusing more on the sorry state of the Eagles?

The dots we try to connect are more complicated than we want them to be. Far too much of this scandal is woven too much into the fabric of the football program to simply separate the two. However, there is still a place for Penn State football to be about football.

"A lot of that was because with all of the different questions, a lot of them aren't sure how to answer questions they are getting badgered with," Bradley said, when asked about the players being shielded from the media. "They'll answer any questions you have about Ohio State.

"You see our players and you want to talk about Ohio State, they'll answer the questions. They're just not sure how to answer some of the other questions because they don't know a whole lot about it."

Tom Bradley has been asked to be a football coach during an extraordinary time in the history of Penn State University. That's what he is trying to do.


Send email to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood.

|
|
|
|
|