I have waited to weigh in, if my humble opinion be at all relevant, on the NCAA penalties levied upon Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky conviction and overall investigation into the University’s handling of the matter.
My observations are not ground breaking, which is why I think the NCAA really overstepped their bounds and essentially used this as a chest-pounding moment to underscore their perceived “authority” over college athletics.
The child molestation convictions of the former Penn State assistant coach are sickening. The facts that the university overlooked, tried to keep quiet and generally hoped these allegations went away with Sandusky (perhaps when he was booted from football coaching in the first place) are all gut wrenching. Disgusting. Sick beyond sick. The man was and clearly is, a danger to society and should be locked up for the rest of his days.
But this matter is a criminal one. Those involved directly with any cover up – the AD, PSU President, Sandusky and the late Joe Paterno – all have been punished. They’ve been fired or worse. But all of the good that was done by PSU athletics, by the Paterno football program and in terms of college athletics at this university in general – should no more be associated with Sandusky than the family or co-workers of any perv or terrorist should be held accountable for that person’s actions.
Taking down Paterno’s statue is a shallow, hollow move. Joe Paterno is dead. No statues of Sandusky were on the grounds. “Vacating” wins for the Penn State football program? What are you talking about! These crimes had nothing to do with football and clearly were limited to ONE MAN committing them. There is no repeat climate or community of child molesters that put down their roots within the PSU athletic world. This is not a program-wide issue. And these penalties – vacating wins, bowl victories, reducing scholarships – are all simply a slap at people and accomplishments that had nothing to do with the crimes committed.
Do the people who committed or overlooked these crimes need to be punished? Yes, and harshly. But to hand out these as if all football players (read “student-athletes”) who attended this university during this time should be associated with it is so far beyond fair I can’t even begin to contemplate.
Advocacy. Court decisions. Support for those hurt. These are all critical reactions. These can help assure we do not have another pedophile running into the showers at NCAA institutions. But human beings commit crimes – which is why we must punish them in a court of law accordingly, We do not, in a civilized society, “vacate” an entire population’s efforts because we know a few of those involved committed heinous offenses. I can’t even argue with the financial penalties the NCAA handed down, since there are attributable gains made in the program under those administrators who overlooked the crimes and this money will allow the establishment of guidelines and aid for those now and in the future who need it.
But the NCAA is not the court system, nor is it the law of the land. It is a governing body for universities setting guidelines for how they want their members to do business. They should get out of the law-making and enforcing business and let those better served to justice do their jobs.
Leave the statue as a piece of history, and history will be what we remember of it – good and bad.
Below: A story from Penn State’s “mythical” national football championship season.
(Brent Weber is a working journalist with more than 30 years experience, including time as a reporter/anchor for CNN, FSN, the OKC Thunder and others. He is the author of The Sports Guy: Scorecard Scribblings From An Ordinary Journalist which enters its second printing in September 2012, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)