Diving into the murky waters at Penn State
I know I have not been very consistent in firing up the old Mojo Wire lately; alas the summer season in Rehoboth Beach is the crazy season for me and typically, by the end of the week I’m a puddle hardly capable of putting together a coherent blog.
The hope is that now that Fourth of July has past I can get back to doing this again once a week. This week though, I’ll double the pleasure and put out two of these suckers, since there are two subjects I wanted to touch on: the Penn State football scandal and ex-Ravens running back Jamal Lewis’ impeding Ring of Honor induction.
Let’s start then with the most unpleasant of these topics, Penn State.
I have consciously tried to avoid talking about Penn State and the whole Jerry Sandusky business for a simple reason: I’ve already done this once before with the Earl Bradley case here in Lewes.
The Sandusky matter has played out on a larger scale, since it mixes sports, education and news, but the details put me right back to that day I first got the search warrant in the Bradley case, reading over all the unpleasant, gory, matter-of-fact details. The allegations contained in that warrant were about the most horrible things I’d ever read, and that was before I became a dad myself.
I truly hope that however long my journalistic career goes on that I never have to cover a large-scale child sex abuse again, because the whole thing is just bad. I relished nothing about that story: didn’t relish writing or reading about the things Bradley did and didn’t relish sticking a tape recorder in the face of poor family members whose lives are irreparably damaged by Bradley’s actions. What do you ask people who have gone through the most horrific thing, short of the death of a child?
So when it comes to the Sandusky story, my first reaction was, “This isn’t ending well for anyone.”
Wasn’t ending well for the kids and parents affected.
Wasn’t ending well for Penn State University.
Wasn’t ending well for Joe Paterno and the football program.
In fact, the only person it probably ended OK for is Sandusky himself, who, like Bradley, will spend the rest of his life incarcerated. Life in prison is certainly too easy a punishment for Sandusky from his victims’ point of view. If he’s an egotist like Bradley, and by all indications he is, Sandusky won’t carry around all the mental baggage the victims and their families will. Hell, Sandusky still probably doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
Of course, Sandusky was able to terrorize kids for a long time thanks to a culture at Penn State that enabled him unfettered access to the football program even after his 1999 retirement.
That in a nutshell, is the gist of the Freeh Report on “What went wrong?” at Penn State. It is a damning document that makes no bones on who is to blame: President Graham Spanier, Senior VP-Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Paterno.
While the bulk of national media reports focused on the first sentence in the findings – the one blaming Paterno and the university officials – the most damning passage is a few pages later.
It says Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities.”
“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well‐being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.”
“Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.”
If that passage alone doesn’t put Schultz and Curley – who face criminal charges for their role in covering up Sandusky’s transgressions – in prison, I don’t know what will. And if Spanier is charged, which may still happen, it could put him in the State Penn as well.
As for Paterno, who died in January, it would be wise of the university to remove the statue of the coach from the front of Beaver Stadium, and scrub his name from the school library.
The football alumni want the statue to stay. Simply put, they are fools whose view was best articulated (or is that inarticulated?) by Matt Millen, who embarrassed himself on ESPN running cover for Paterno after the Freeh Report basically exposed JoePa as a fraud.
How Millen even has a job at ESPN after he ran the Detroit Lions into the toilet is beyond most people, but having him on to talk about the Freeh Report and serve as an apologist for Paterno was ridiculously poor judgment on ESPN’s part.
Yes, Paterno, through his success with the football program, contributed to turning Penn State into a nationally recognized institution. Yes, he won more football games than anyone else. Yes, he gave a lot of money to the school. Yes, his players graduated.
But, and now, there’s a lot of “but’s” with Paterno, he clearly, stubbornly, stayed on about 10 years too long and let a pedophile roam free to assault kids in his facilities on his watch.
No, if I’m the college, I say forget the Millens of the world and ditch the statue. You’re never going to move on from this if a reminder of the institutional failures that led to God knows how many kids being sexually assaulted is still standing at the entrance to the stadium.
The case will now go on a trajectory anyone here familiar with the Bradley case can follow. Sandusky’s lawyers will appeal the guilty verdict. The civil suits will come fast and furious. Victims get counseling, while other victims come forward. And the slow wheels of justice will start turning on Schultz, Curley and possibly Spanier.
The big unanswered question now is: What to do about the Penn State football program?
One argument has been to give the school the notorious “death penalty,” most famously handed down to Southern Methodist University’s football program in the late 1980s. The argument from this side is that the football climate at Penn State became so toxic, it allowed a child sexual predator to run free on campus, enjoying emeritus status no less. The argument is the program needs to be blown up and built anew.
I don’t disagree that the reset button needs to be hit, but I’m not sure the death penalty is the answer. In SMU’s case, the death penalty was like Hiroshima. It devastated that program to such an extent that the school wasn’t competitive again for 20 years.
Personally, I think the NCAA would rather not administer the death penalty, since its effects on a program are catostrophic. As background, the death penalty is also known as the NCAA's "repeat violator rule," designed to punish althletic programs - doesn't have to be the same sport - that get two major violations within five years.
If the death penalty is administered, the program is basically shut down. All coaches in the sport in question must resign, scholarships are banned for two years and the school is stripped of its NCAA voting rights.
While many national commentators are comparing the Penn State situation with SMU, to me, the more appropriate comparison is to the Baylor basketball scandal 10 years ago.
For those that don’t remember, in that case, forward Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson. In the ensuing investigation, it was revealed that head coach Dave Bliss was a world-class scumbag who not only secretly paid players, but encouraged his assistants to frame Dennehy as a drug dealer.
In that situation, Baylor hit the reset button on the program before the NCAA could drop the death penalty on them (Baylor was a repeat offender, making them eligible for the death penalty).
In my opinion, whatever that's worth, if Baylor basketball didn't get the death penalty, Penn State won't get the death penalty. Baylor, and for that matter the Alabama football program of the late 1990s-early 2000s, which was implicated in a pay-for-play scheme with recruit Albert Means, among other things, were tailor-made death penalty cases and the NCAA didn't throw the switch.
To me, the ideal punishment is this: a one-year suspension of the program. Current players are allowed to leave without losing eligibility. Penn State can field a team in year two but with no TV, no bowls and no home games. Year three they can have home games again but no TV or bowls. Fully restore the program in year four.
Under this scenario, you can punish the program but allow Penn State to slowly rebuild.
The hammer is going to come down on Penn State football, one way or another. In this case, I’m not sure the death penalty is even necessary. After all, who is going to be chomping at the bit to go to Penn State after this? The program’s name is Mudd now, and likely will be for a long time.
I’m not sure what it says, given the crimes involved, that the only thing we’re talking about giving the death penalty for is the football program.