Sailing the Seas of Cheese: You Reap What You Sow
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
–John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron of Acton
The sanctions meted out to Penn State are a little over twelve hours old and the apologists and pundits outraged at the severity of the punishments. One professional athlete has bemoaned that “the athletes always get the short end of the stick” when it comes to punishments and lowered himself to the same social circles as my first grader by calling anyone who disagreed with him a clown and/or a bum. (Well, to his credit he didn’t pull out the coup de grace, the dreaded poopyhead.) But hey, I got banninated by a someone who claims to be a professional! It’s a first for me.
But looking beyond an athlete’s sometimes myopic view of college sports, there are two camps: the Justice was Served group and the Penn State is Being Unjustly Persecuted camp.
Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated puts a snide spin on the Penn State sanctions by positing, “Justice has been served, assuming your idea of justice for rape victims is to deprive a school of its next four Outback Bowl invitations.”
He points out that plenty has already happened: Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley were stripped of their positions. Paterno’s statue has been torn down and the student section renamed in an attempt to erase the old man’s presence from the stadium that became Penn State’s holy altar in which the football machine worshiped.
But Mandel does not stop there. He tries to compare apples to oranges in his attempt to illustrate how today’s sanctions were above and beyond what was necessary. Mandel writes:
But while Penn State may be the most extreme and horrific scandal we’ve seen in terms of its human tragedy and consequences, let’s not be naïve. Athletics regularly trump academics at campuses across the country, and NCAA rules are regularly violated because of them. Never before has the NCAA’s image-conscious president felt the need to personally intervene. But of course, none of those other scandals made NBC Nightly News for a week.
Okay, I’ll give him that. Up until the Penn State scandal, no one every had to worry whether or not a university’s sports machine was covering up sexual abuse problem that seemed to mirror that of the Roman Catholic Church. (Though I would not be surprised if rules underscoring the legal obligations of the mandated reporter surface in the NCAA rules and regulations by the end of the year.)
Yes, football is king at many a Division I school. There is no question that deals happen behind closed doors all the time. Money is exchanged under the table. Hinky recruitment goes on all the time. Failing grades miraculously become marginally passing grades in the nick of time and student athletes are saved from academic suspensions all the time.
And then there’s ESPN’s Ivan Maisel who takes the absurdity of this argument to new heights. He doesn’t help is argument one bit by referring to NCAA’s president Mark Emmert with such sarcastic perjoratives as Generalissimo Emmert or His Excellency. Part of Maisel’s outrage at the sanctions stem from the fact that Penn State isn’t in violation of anything under the auspices of the NCAA. Maisel writes:
You can read the hundreds of pages of the NCAA manual from now until the Nittany Lions run onto the field to play Ohio on Sept. 1, and you won’t find a single rule that Penn State violated in this case. If that doesn’t mean anything, why have a rulebook?
Well, until the Penn State scandal was uncovered, no one ever dreamed that the NCAA would have to draft rules specifically protecting children that enter an athletic department’s facilities. Unfortunately, such rules are now necessary. (I, for one, would not be surprised if child protection rules were added to the NCAA rulebook–with particular attention to the mandated reporter–by the end of this year.)
So just because there wasn’t a specific rule in a book outlawing child endangerment and non-compliance with state laws regarding mandated reporting, the NCAA should just slap Penn State on the wrist or turn a blind eye to repeated and horrific child abuse? Wait, what? If that is the case, what crack is Maisel smoking today?
Maisel and Mandel’s arguments condemning the NCAA’s decisions are rather myopic in my opinion. Mandel is partially correct by referencing other offenses. Both writers acknowledge that the guilty parties have been relieved of their positions at the university. There’s even some indignation and cries of hypocrisy that the NCAA is singling out for abuse of power while the NCAA keeps turning blind eye to other abuses of power in the name of football that continue every day.
I’m sorry, but you cannot compare the monstrosities that occurred at Penn State, and the concerted effort to conceal it to a recruitment violation or money-under-the table. One is dirty while the other is morally depraved.
These two writers miss the point as well when it comes to the message the NCAA sent today. To me it is quite clear. No man is an island and no program will be allowed to go unchecked from this moment forward. And with that comes the undercurrent that offenses in the name of absolute power (see Southern Methodist University in 1987 or the Reggie Bush scandal more recently) will get a pass.
And to send that message, the school that is now the epitome of abuse of power and placing the football machine above any moral code is now the example for all for what happens when morality gets placed on its head.
The punishments are unprecedented. They are far reaching and unforgiving. I won’t rehash now utterly depraved, corrupt and callous Penn State has been since 1998. My opinion is here for all to read in a previous post. But when a university forgets about being a university where fostering the growth of, you know, that novel thing called youth, gets tossed aside in favor of a football dynasty, where morality is merely a suggestion and children are written off as acceptable collateral damage the punishment needs to hurt them where it counts.
And if the sun doesn’t rise or fall without the football program’s approval on the Penn State campus, then the very center of power and the program need to be deconstructed down to its barest bones where it no longer has power to trump campus leadership as well as the laws of the land.
If the enormous cash flow brought in by football is what kept the well-oiled machine running, then the school first and foremost needs to surrender what they cherish most. The school was fined $60 Millon today, the equivalent to one year of football profit. According to the NCAA, the money will be used to set up an endowment to help victims of abuse. (This is my day job speaking, but instead of reinventing the wheel, perhaps the NCAA should earmark that money for the National Child Alliance, a truly wonderful organization already providing that service nationwide.) Penn State ignored abused children for fourteen years. Today they were forced to take notice with their checkbook.
But the NCAA didn’t stop there. It hacked off the head of the football monster by killing its chances at post-season play not just for the four years it is banned from bowl games and championships but also for years to come by cleaving off several scholarships. Again, the sanctions were meant to take away what the machine wanted most. If the the University leadership was willing to trade the lives of a few little boys for fame and glory, then they don’t deserve the accolades that they have earned during that time where that same leadership turned a blind eye as well as any chance at fortune and fame in the very near future
Joe Paterno didn’t get a pass today. While his wife is crying foul, the NCAA is not willing to give him the golden parachute Penn State did as he exited the university. All of his victories from 1998 until his firing are null and void. His legacy as the winningest coach in college football history has been erased. There are same that are claiming that it is unfair to punish Paterno posthumously. Quite frankly, he is getting off easy. After all, it is impossible to indict a corpse. But in my opinion, Paterno isn’t a scapegoat to hang the blame for this tragedy. He was a ringleader and chief facilitator. He proved, as the Freeh report asserts, he was willing to do anything to prevent anything from tarnishing his football team’s reputation. Paterno had become a god in the eyes of that campus, his statue a shrine. In order to destroy that type of false idol worship, it was absolutely necessary to void his accomplishments as it was to tear down his effigy.
And yet there are some–myself included–that still think anything short of the statement, Pennsylvania State University is no longer a football college falls short and is too lenient. Penn State failed when it decided bowl games were more important than a child’s soul.
Apologists keep harking to the student athlete’s, crying something akin to, What about the children?!?!
What about the children, indeed.
Albert Breer summed it up quite well today when he tweeted:
Possible that the Penn State fans who are speaking out on behalf of the “current athletes” are more worried about their own entertainment?
And that is exactly what is wrong with Penn State and its apologists. It is why the culture needs to be changed.
Hats off to the NCAA for having the courage to stand up to the false prophets and telling them no more.