Why punish Penn State football?
NCAA is now in the business of retribution
The NCAA’s swift and harsh punishment of Penn State does not speak well of us as a people.
It says the NCAA gives in to mob rule and emotion. It says the NCAA can go beyond its charge of monitoring athletics to being society’s avenger. It says the NCAA acted because it recognized that this nation, supposedly the greatest, most civilized country on earth, has a punitive streak.
We can’t stop crazy gunmen in Colorado. We can’t prevent our sons and daughters from dying in senseless wars. We can’t fix an economy that has stolen our jobs.
But, by golly, we can make Penn State football and the dead Joe Paterno suffer our wrath for all the horrible things that happen in this world over which we have no control.
Such as the sexual abuse of children.
So the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million. It revoked all 112 Penn State football victories since 1998. It banned Penn State from bowl games for four years and cut 20 scholarships a year for four years.
The punishment may fit the crime. But it doesn’t fit the victims.
Because sexual abuse of children has nothing to do with Penn State football.
Make no mistake. What Jerry Sandusky did to an untold number of boys was wrong. Our legal system confirmed that a month ago when it found him guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse of children; he is expected to be sentenced to life inprison.
What followed at Penn State was wrong, too. If the Freeh report is accurate — and there is no reason to believe it isn’t — Penn State officials and Paterno actively participated in a coverup of Sandusky’s activities. They knew of Sandusky’s transgressions and made a conscious effort to keep them quiet.
Just as distasteful was Paterno’s negotiation of a final lavish contract, full of post-retirement perks. That was an act of arrogance given the time bomb he knew he was leaving behind.
But voiding the past 14 years of Penn State football history doesn’t change that. It won’t make life better for Sandusky’s victims. It won’t make pedophiles stop abusing children. It won’t heal the anguish the rest of us feel.
It simply proves that, when we get mad, we’ll hurt people in the name of retribution. In this case, we are hurting all the Penn State football players who have taken part in the program since 1998. We are erasing their efforts for acts of which they had no knowledge or participation. We are hurting the current Penn State football players, who now must jump ship or endure four years of scorn.
Removing Paterno’s statue was understandable. Not because we should go around taking down the statues and memorials of all people whom we later found to have sinned. But putting it in storage for now removes a flash point for raw nerves.
Fining Penn State $60 million can be justified as the university’s penalty for the egregious misbehavior of an employee. And it can do some good, as the money will be targeted for preventing child abuse and assisting victims.
But what Paterno did on the field — or more accurately, what 100 young men did on the field each year for 14 seasons — had nothing to do with what happened off the field. What was done by Sandusky, who left the team 13 years ago, was not part of the program.
The coverup of those transgressions was not a part of theprogram.
They were personal failures that had nothing to do with the football program and should not have been used to punish the football program. It’s curious how the NCAA even claimed jurisdiction.
What happened at Penn State was a matter of morality, not athletic competitive advantage; it remains unclear what NCAA rules Penn State violated.
The NCAA often takes years to mete out punishment on minor infractions of slam dunk clarity — yet it took less than two weeks to invoke harsh punishment for a complex case in which it conducted no investigation. Clearly, the NCAA felt emboldened to insert itself into the situation and gratify the communal fury.
Yes, we all feel a terrible guilt for what happened to Sandusky’s victims. Yes, it’s unfortunate we have no one left to publicly punish but the football program. Paterno is dead. The other administrators have been fired. We have no opportunity to figuratively stone the transgressors.
But what happened at Penn State was a tragedy about people, not football.
The fact we’ve made the punishment about football says nothing noble about us as people.
Contact senior writer Gerald Ensley at 850-599-2310 firstname.lastname@example.org.