It was Aristotle who said “piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.” Penn State University is feeling the full force of NCAA sanctions for failing to follow this ethical standard. The NCAA committee dropped a mighty fist on the program today, fining the institution $60 million, banning the team from bowl games (post-season play) for the next 4 years, and vacating all of its wins from 1998-2011 in a punishment so severe it harkens back to the “death penalty” given to Southern Methodist University in 1984 for substantial violations of NCAA rules and regulations.
The punishment will likely see the Nittany Lions unable to field a competitive team for the next decade. What rational parents would allow their child to attend such a university? College football players (and recruits) play to win the game. There’s simply no way to convince a kid who dreams of four years of glory to come play for a team who isn’t allowed to compete for it. If there’s no chance to win a championship, any current player will transfer and all future recruits will take their talents elsewhere. The exorbitant amount of money hauled in from bowl games will be nonexistent. The games they do manage to win will mean nothing. It will be a black hole in the college football world for some years to come.
Football is a man’s game played by strong, athletic men in a sport that celebrates toughness. On the field, they’re brothers in arms, protecting each other and laying it all on the line every week with no goal other than team victory. I’m not shocked that no one came out to reveal Sandusky as a predator. I’m not surprised the abuse was kept a secret by the staff and players. These are men with great pride, how difficult must it be to expose your vulnerability to a sexual predator? Can you go against the fraternity of the team and live with the further abuse you’d receive from the current staff and alumni for bringing down the organization?
None of these questions have easy answers, but the punishment is just. The failure to act on behalf of those we are all sworn to protect is unforgivable. Those who disagree, I must ask, what if this happened to one of your children? What if it was a member of your family? Can you ethically and morally look the victims and their families in the eye and tell them football is more important than the safety and well-being of their children? Does our culture place this much emphasis on athletics that we’re willing to overlook more than a decade of abuse so we can save records and achievements that are ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of life? Who cares about the vacated wins? Who cares about the money? If your immediate thoughts are on the football program and not the lives of those affected by a monster, I have to wonder if you’re the same kind of person who’d protect Sandusky.
Growing up in a household supporting Wisconsin and Big 10 football, I was intimately familiar with the yearly match-ups between the Badgers and Joe Pa’s Nittany Lions. He was a mythic figure, a man whose longevity and esteem among college football lore was unrivaled, but now it’s tarnished. His legacy forever altered by his protection of a child molester. Paterno’s name should be forever wiped from the University and the minds of college football fans everywhere. He deserves no reverence or memorial for winning football games while simultaneously choosing his buddy over innocent kids. How could he spend decades teaching children about ethics and being upstanding citizens on and off the field when he clearly didn’t follow the same standards? Loyalty in sports is almost a prerequisite, but good men don’t protect a wolf among sheep, and certainly not one that preys on children.
Penn State’s focus will be on rebuilding their athletic department into something trustworthy again, and maybe someday the Nittany Lions will overcome, perhaps even compete again, but for now, the disgraced edifice of Nittany Lion football will loom large over a city with extreme pride in it’s hometown program.
For the children and true victims in this situation, let the healing begin.