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An Opportunity at Scandal-Ridden Penn State

Can the administrators, staff and students at Penn State turn their culture around?

 

In the wake of the Louis Freeh report and the $60 million fine, the 4-year postseason ban and loss of some scholarships, one thing remains clear: football is still more important than morals, ethics and the safety of children in a damaged collegiate athletics culture that values winning and money above all else.

Yes, the sanctions are unprecedented. Yes, they took away Joe Paterno's wins going back to ’98. Yes, these penalties will damage the program more than a simple one-year “death penalty” ban would have. But no, they’re still not strong enough to dissuade other “academic” officials from making the same morally repugnant decisions that bring marquee names to the field and filthy lucre into the coffers.

At least the NCAA acted swiftly, despite the handwringing of a current unnamed official who complained that the Jerry Sandusky affair falls outside its jurisdiction (sorry, buddy, not really). And, despite rumors to the contrary, the $60 million fine will go toward helping and preventing the sexual abuse of minors. A small victory, but a victory nevertheless.

What would have been better? How about shutting down the entire Penn State football program for a five-year period, instead of just banning bowl games for four? How about taking away national television privileges? And how about upping that fine to something more than the equivalent of one year of Nittany Lion football revenue?

When the scandal broke last fall, the outpouring of support for Paterno and his staff astonished me. Everyone noted his commitment to academics, as if that makes him some sort of saint – excuse me, aren’t student-athletes students first?

(Paterno isn’t the only coach to insist upon good grades. Just check out Mike Krzyzewski down at Duke, or the incredible, superhuman Naismith Coach of the Century, Pat Summitt, recently retired due to a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.)

Frankly, I’m astonished that any parent would allow a child to attend PSU this coming fall, given the clearly pervasive football-first culture at the school. Even today, one whiny Penn State fan lamented the tearing down of the JoePa statue and the record adjustment, noting that “one bad decision” shouldn’t alter a lifetime of good deeds.

Give me a break.

As for the current players, the N.C.A.A. ruled that they could transfer out, subject to certain eligibility rules. And while academic officials are publicly clucking and shaking their heads at the whole affair, the New York Times reported that their football coaches are studying the current PSU roster for players they can woo to their own programs.

Yuck. Legitimate, but yuck.

On the plus side, one has to give credit to Penn State for two things. First, its own Board of Directors hired Freeh to conduct the investigation, and it agreed with the report’s findings. Two, it accepted the N.C.A.A. sanctions without complaint.

Penn State now has a real opportunity to be a leader where it matters most, and that’s not on the football field. It must demonstrate to the community that the members of its football team are not more equal than others. It must reestablish itself as an institution where learning comes first. It must recruit coaches, players and administrators with unassailable characters and the records of achievement to back it up.

Perhaps it should heed the words of its own motto, and it should make life better for not just some, but for all.

Brian Kesselman July 24, 2012 at 02:55 PM
There is no excuse for anyone to accept or ignore child rape or child abuse. I won’t ask anyone to ignore that, and the idea that Joe Paterno could be excused for “one bad deed” is rediculous… If, in fact, he knew and did nothing. I understand your arguments, but there are sketchy assumptions. The NCAA and Penn State Board of Trustees accepted the Freeh report as the basis for the sanctions. If you read the entire Freeh report you know that the conclusions are made despite some admitted evidenciary holes. In light of what was made public yesterday by ESPN, I suggest you might want to wait until the court cases have been completed to assume you know the truth. Need a perspective change? Compare this this letter that ESPN acquired from Graham Spanier (one of the four accused in the report of covering up) to the Penn State Board of Trustees to exhibits 2e-2j: http://goo.gl/qxUmC And this response from the Paterno family: http://goo.gl/w7xHw. Somehow the presumption of innocence has been suspended for all of the Penn State officials, and solely based on the changing stories from Mike McQuery about what he told each individual. Sandusky is already serving time. Why not wait to condemn until people are "on record"? I don’t see the need to rush to judge. I DO see the need to fix known problems, identify and stop pedophiles, punish the guilty, and help victims. To those ends the NCAA, Penn State, the PA judiciary system and others should be praised.
Lisa Bigelow July 24, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Hi Brian, Thanks for reading and commenting. Keep in mind that the NCAA has a long and notorious past for taking an unconscionably long time to make disciplinary decisions. This past year, its leadership made a commitment to dealing with issues in a timely and direct fashion. Sandusky may already be serving time, but the fact of the matter is that the leadership at the university DID NOTHING over repeated occasions. The university has acknowledged through its acceptance of the sanctions that these allegations are true. Waiting what could potentially be years for civil and additional criminal trials to finish would not punish Penn State in the manner they need to be punished. Quite frankly, I couldn't care less about what the Paterno family thinks. They are saving face at this point. The university should be ashamed of itself for, among other things, agreeing to renegotiate Paterno's employment contract while the Sandusky investigation was underway AND for paying him out on his contract anyway. Lisa B.
Amy Kesselman July 24, 2012 at 03:47 PM
"How about shutting down the entire Penn State football program for a five-year period, instead of just banning bowl games for four?" Doing this would have a severe impact on the economy of the local towns surrounding the University Park campus. In an already weak economy with high unemplyment rates doing this would end up hurting innocent bystanders much more than it would impact Penn State. " superhuman Naismith Coach of the Century, Pat Summitt" Isn't this putting yet another coach on a pedestal? Isn't that one of the issues in this entire scandal?
EMR July 24, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Indict every person who knew about this and put them in jail. This was a conspiracy by individuals to allow child abuse after the facts were brought forth in 1998. The AG even knew about this in 1998. Send them to jail!
Brian Kesselman July 24, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Even accepting the Freeh report to expediently deal with problems that, you correctly point out, could otherwise take years to resolve, you should consider the goals of the NCAA sanctions: They were "punitive" and "corrective" for this unique situation, not intended to be "deterrent." Your implication that the severity of the punishment should be measured as a message to other academic officials doesn't meet those standards. I hope that the mere unfolding of the story and its effects would discourage others in academia, but that is probably too big a leap of faith. Additionally, by crippling and not killing the football program, the NCAA decided to for change in the organization. Killing the program doesn’t enable the NCAA to meet its state goal of fixing the university culture as it relates to the football program, and monitoring the improvements. And the stated that they considered changes that Penn State has already made in response to the Freeh report when determining the severity. Personally, I agree that the Paterno family is trying to defend a legacy and save face. The Spanier letter is different; it is someone confronting their accusers. I suspect you discount that by focusing on the University failure as a whole, not the individuals. True, the University is ultimately responsible for the actions of its employees and students. To that end, a punishment is deserved. I just question whether you're advocating the NCAA overstep their mission and goals.
Brian Kesselman July 24, 2012 at 04:59 PM
EMR, the list of people who knew about allegations is staggering. It includes PSU employees, Second Mile staff, police detectives, attorneys, the AG who is now the Governor (and therefore on the PSU Board of Trustees), High School administrators, Department of Public Welfare employees, a prosecutor who disappeared suspiciously and more. What is interesting to me is that all the focus continues to be on only PSU leadership, and that's only because PSU paid to have themselves investigated. No one is talking about how pedophiles hide in plain sight. How Sandusky used his reputation with a charity to fool people with whom he had daily contact. No one seems to care that there is a serious problem in the PA child welfare system if it did an investigation and determined there was no crime, repeatedly. And Connecticut has its own problems with protecting our kids. But until it is easier to make an accusation (anonymously or attributed) and believe that the alleged offender will be dealt with fairly, there will be a serious impediment to standing up for kids without eye witness solid proof. Who wants to wrongly accuse someone? And yet, what's the price of hesitating?
Heather Temple July 24, 2012 at 05:18 PM
The NCAA is covering it's proverbial you know what and Penn State is being made an example. These sanctions do fall outside the realm of the NCAA's jurisdiction. What about Notre Dame failing to help a woman raped by a football player and the subsequent cover-up when there were no arrests and she killed herself? Where's the NCAA for that? When the police have taped phone calls between Sandusky and one of those boys' mother and DO NOTHING back in '98 who is Joe Paterno to do more? I totally agree with what Amy and Brian said above. None of us are perfect. Some just get the luxury of making the biggest mistake of their life on a national stage. I don't think that horrible, horrible mistake totally wipes out a lifetime spent trying to do good things for your student athletes, your university or your community. Until all of the facts are known I don't think any of us can judge. Does anyone know of a Division 1 school that does not have a football first mentality or maybe basketball first mentality (UConn comes to mind - especially men's basketball, spends millions and their players still can't perform academically). Another very interesting article that brings up some very good points can be found at http://mobile.pennlive.com/advpenn/pm_29243/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=GIyjgiV2

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