Tag Archives: Joe Paterno

Death By Fire To Penn State

“No price the NCAA can levy with repair the damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert as he handed down Penn State’s sanctions. In the aftermath of the Freeh Report—an independent collection of evidence, accounts, and interviews following Sandusky’s child molestation charges—new details of Penn State’s implicit cover-up of Sandusky’s abuse were recounted. Although Penn State only broke one rule, “lack of institutional control” (this is a criminal case, not an athletic one), the NCAA has given themselves the power to punish the football program.

The sanctions imposed are a $60 million fine to be donated to a child abuse charity (about $13 million less than the program’s revenue), a forfeiture of all wins since 1998, and a four-year postseason ban; football players can transfer to other schools without penalty, and the Penn State athletic department is placed on probation. Never before has a program been punished to this degree. It’s worse than the Death Penalty, which is when the NCAA bans competition in a sport for at least one year. Joe Paterno, who’s name and legacy has already been lit on fire, has now had his records burned. The program is now financially crippled, and with transfers looming and no postseason to offer to recruits, bringing in Penn State quality players will be impossible. These sanctions are a slow death by fire, when a quick decapitation is needed.

Penn State football is irreparably ruined. The reputation of the university and the program has already been tarnished, but these sanctions impose logistical harm. The school is now defined by Jerry Sandusky, and the football team is too. Although the NCAA sanctions are unprecedented, the act of handing them down isn’t a problem—it’s the sanctions themselves. The NCAA should have closed down the football program altogether. If they really felt the need to be involved, a decisive blow should’ve been dealt. Instead of delivering a slow, painful fall, a swift death would’ve been more appropriate. Football will continue at Penn State, but only in a sad, hollow shell of itself. Every game will be a reminder of Sandusky. Why even let that happen?

The NCAA is making the entire case about football without any regard to the victims. The $60 million donation is nice, but it’s only a small gesture in the grand scheme of the situation. Football is now overshadowing everything. History will remember Sandusky as the footnote that led to the death of Penn State football, instead of the evil man who ruined lives. All we’ll remember are the “ruined” careers of football sportsmen, instead of the victims. This case was never about football, but that’s all anybody seems to care about. When Penn State’s students rioted on campus following Paterno’s firing, it was all about football. “JoePa is Penn State.” Really now? For Penn State’s students to forget about football, and to be re-cultured and rewired into students—not football-driven maniacs—the program must die now. There’s a crisis of culture at Penn State that the NCAA is bent on exacerbating.

When Paterno arranged a lucrative pay-out some 15 months ago, before the story went public, it was all about protecting him, the program, and therefore the university. Institutions like Penn State are effectively run by the football program, because of all the money, attention, and power, and students it brings in. Isn’t school spirit and the football team central to a Penn State experience? What is the school now? Sandusky’s showers are more famous than Beaver Stadium. This could’ve happened to any team at Penn State, but if it was the swim team coach who was molesting children, no way it gets covered up. It’s a story that comes out, gets attention for a week, and then dies. Penn State lives on. Because the money and power of the football team was linked, Sandusky got away with his perversion for decades.

The NCAA has an elephant that isn’t even in the room yet. College football programs have grown to be too rich, too powerful, and out of control. The value of an athletic scholarship has been bastardized by TV contracts and merchandising. College football doesn’t exist for students to get an education–it exists as a free talent-evaluating service for the NFL, and for the pockets of the university. Right there is why Paterno and Penn State’s braintrust covered the whole thing up. But are they as immoral as their peers? No university or athletic department would ever admit this, but would they have done the same thing if they were in Paterno’s shoes? Would they’ve called the police at the cost of their football program? Men have done worse to maintain wealth and power, and with so much of it in the college game, there can’t be many morally sound men left.

The NCAA and Penn State should be trying to find solutions, not sanctions. Penn State will probably sue the NCAA for handing down these penalties without legal standing, meaning this quagmire will continue to drag on. The longer this is an issue, the longer it will take for the victims to heal, and for Penn State to heal. The NCAA’s ego is getting in the way of a humanistic tragedy, just like how Paterno’s prevented him from calling 9-1-1. Only a power-drunk organization like the NCAA could put itself ahead of a crime. They genuinely believe that they’re above the law. The best price the NCAA can levy is either total, immediate action, or none at all. Focus on the victims, not on football.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Valuing Money and Football Over Children: Penn State and Joe Paterno

Last Fall, when news about Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation came out, I wrote a column for a Writing class on the case. Back then, the hammer had yet to be brought down on head football coach Joe Paterno, a talismanic figure at Penn State. This morning, a 267-page report on Penn State’s internal involvement with Sandusky came out. In the report, it was revealed that Joe Paterno, former athletic director Tim Curley, former vice president Gary Schultz, and former university president Graham Spanier, all had explicit knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes for over a decade. They all acted to cover it up in the best interest of the image of the university and the football program. I think my column is fitting for the mood of today. Lasted edited on December 1st, 2011:

This past month, Penn State University has been embroiled in a child molestation scandal. According to a recent grand jury report, former Penn State Football Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky performed sexual acts on eight boys over 15 years in Penn State football’s shower facilities. The crime has not only affected the football program, but also the entire university, as many Penn State academic and athletic officials were complicit in a university-wide cover-up of Sandusky’s actions.

Since the story broke, Athletic Director Tim Curley has resigned, and University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno have been ousted. Through all of the charges, allegations and criticism, one essential, moral question has repeatedly been raised: How could all of these men (eight Penn State officials, not including Sandusky have been connected to the scandal), just stand by for over a decade while Sandusky ran rampant in their showers?

The answer, in fact, is rather clear. Each one of these men were trying to protect the integrity of their university. The media attention has been solely on Paterno, who’s God-like status at the university has collapsed into martyrdom in the eyes of Penn State students, as well as wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, who witnessed Sandusky sodomize a boy. Penn State is known for their tremendous football program and legendary head coach, causing the story to spiral into a problem with the football team. These men who idly stood and literally watched Sandusky molest children wanted what was best for the university and it’s cash cow of a football program. In their eyes, it was in the best interests of the university to pretend that these events never occurred. They made it an image and money matter instead of a human crisis.

It is important, however, to provide due process for each individual involved with the scandal. One cannot forget the infamous Duke lacrosse rape case, in which three Duke lacrosse players were charged with raping a stripper at a house party. The players were quickly hung in the court of public opinion, their coach was fired and the remainder of their season was cancelled. As it turned out, North Carolina state prosecutor Mike Nifong and the accuser lied and made up facts to push the case to trial. Nifong, not the boys, ended up served jail time, as he was convicted of criminal contempt.

Currently, Sandusky has been found guilty in the public eye. He deserves his due process, but it’s hard not to see him as a guilty man. His interview on national television with NBC reporter Bob Costas has made him a dead man walking. In a faint, dry, creepy voice, he played down all the incidents as just “horsing around” in the showers. His answers were bizarre, but his tone of voice is what was scary.

19 men were mentioned in the grand jury report as having knowledge of the events, and countless other victims have come forward since the Costas interview. 19 men had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions, and each, according to the report, had a “limited response.” A limited response is what the victims got to protect the Penn State brand. The only action Curley and Gary Shultz, the head of the Penn State police department, took was to order Sandusky to not bring any more children from his Second Mile charity program to the football building. Never mind actual legal action—administrators basically gave Sandusky a spanking and a time-out for his wrongdoing, and let him continue on.

Paterno has received the bulk of media attention, as his status in the sporting world has been destroyed thanks to the scandal. His name has been stripped from the Big Ten Football Championship trophy, and some have even called for his statue outside of Beaver Stadium to be torn down. But let’s give Old Joe Pa the benefit of the doubt for one moment. After all, he testified that he only was told about “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature” to victims. He didn’t know of any oral sex or anal rape. No details were passed along to him. He swore to it, under oath. Scouts honor.

But stop right there. Only fondling and only something of a sexual nature? Why didn’t that spark alarm bells? Since when is “only fondling” between a grown man and a boy acceptable? It would be foolish to think that the head of Penn State’s football program didn’t know the details of all of Sandusky’s actions; Paterno’s legendary status and the prominence of the football team made him the most powerful man on campus—he knew it all.

Even if he only knew about some horsing around and touching, he still deserves to be hung from the highest tree for not asking more questions. As the face of the university, the man with the most power in Happy Valley, he had a moral responsibility to himself, his program, his school, and most importantly, the victims, to bypass his supervisor, bypass campus police, and go right to the state. If he could see himself as a great enough man to control one of the biggest sporting institutions in the country, he could pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. Paterno had the power and the responsibility to right Sandusky’s wrongs, and bring justice to the victims and the community, but chose to protect the false integrity of himself and his program. Selfishness took the lead.

Despite the harsh morality of the situation, there has been fervent support for Paterno in the Penn State community. A quick YouTube search will display videos of thousands of students rioting on campus after Paterno’s firing was announced. Media vans were flipped over, and light posts were torn from the earth. $20,000 of property damage was done to the campus. The loyal support of Paterno is just as sickening as Paterno’s lack of action. Students were mad that their beloved football coach was fired. Boo-hoo. It’s easy to riot when an old man has never sodomized you or a loved one. The media and the Penn State community has yet to realize that the Sandusky scandal isn’t about sport. It’s about eight young men who had their world’s flipped upside-down by a pervert in a Nittany Lion embroidered towel.

Even back at the university level, the scandal is relevant. It questions the value of a Penn State education. How can students expect to receive a fair and balanced education at a university where the President and Vice-President can allow sexual crimes to be openly committed? How can a student, or a student-athlete commit to a school where potential faculty members and coaches have a demagnetized moral compass? Every academic, athletic and structural decision made at Penn State has got to be scrutinized further, because the people spending student and donor money are clearly ill.

And the students who rioted and destroyed property in Paterno’s name have proved that their faculty is indeed incompetent and sick. Their rioting translates into complicity with the officials who conspired to let Sandusky continue his sex spree. They wanted the story to go away just as much as the 19 men mentioned in the grand jury report to protect Paterno and Penn State football. Apparently rioting was their defense mechanism.

Clearly, the entire culture at Penn State needs to be reevaluated and overhauled. Putting the glee and greed of a football program over what’s inherently right speaks to a cultural and moral decay at Penn State. It’s now up to the men who replaced their rotten incumbents to re-culture the Penn State community.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49