- Special Sections
- Public Notices
For years, I was an admirer of the Penn State University football program. They had tradition, they ran a very clean program, they graduated their players and I even liked their plain, no-frills uniform that drew attention away from individual players and focused it on team.
All those good qualities about Penn State were legitimate. They actually did run a program that was apparently clean from all academic cheating, booster and recruiting fraud that’s rampant in many other programs. They did take seriously the role of educating the student-athlete, and they did value team success over individual glory. What we learned about Penn State’s football program over the last year doesn’t change any of the above, but what we learned also changes the image entirely.
Their shame wasn’t that they had a child sexual predator on their staff – any employer, organization or institution could find themselves with an undesirable character within their ranks. Their shame is that they didn’t take immediate steps to remove him, nor did they seem to care enough to protect other children who would eventually become victims.
While I had always looked at Penn State’s program of being of the highest integrity and character – come to find out, it was lacking both when it mattered most. Yes, they did the right things in so many areas, but when they faced their biggest test of doing the right thing in the right manner – they balked. While they took pride in their deservedly clean image for decades, they allowed that same pride to override their judgment to do the right thing.
Now they’re paying dearly. The last several months have seen the program crash in open shame. Legendary Head Coach Joe Paterno resigned in disgrace and died just a few weeks later, other high-ranking administrators at the university have lost their jobs and their reputations, and just this week, the school was hit with unprecedented sanctions by the NCAA.
Those sanctions include a $60 million fine, a loss of scholarships, a multi-year ban on post-season play, and perhaps most painful of all to a once-proud program – the erasing of all victories earned on the football field dating back to 1998. That means Paterno – who left the game as the all-time winningest coach, loses that title and the school’s football program loses its heritage.
Over the weekend, workers removed the statute of Paterno from the Penn State campus. Photos showed Paterno’s statue covered with a blanket or tarp as it was taken off the pedestal to be shipped to an undisclosed secure location to be stored. It’s hard to imagine any scenario right now where the university will ever feel justified in putting Paterno on display again.
It’s sad. In so many ways, Paterno was all that was right about college athletics. He taught his players so many valuable lessons in his 60-plus years at Penn State as both an assistant and head coach, but the greatest lesson may have come from his greatest mistake. Sometimes the greatest sin is not doing something we ought not to do, but rather failing to do what we should do.
Some suggested that Penn State could have received the NCAA’s death penalty, which would have basically shut down the football program at PSU for a number of years. I’m glad that didn’t happen.
There is an opportunity now for a new breed of Penn State administrators, coaches and student-athletes to build on what was once great about the program, while vowing never to repeat the mistakes that brought it down. Players who choose to remain at PSU won’t get to play in bowl games, they’ll be the subject of much scorn and mockery by opposing fans, but they will have an opportunity to build a new foundation of integrity and character. The NCAA should allow any current player to transfer out of PSU without having to sit out the normal one-year that most transfers do. I’ll respect those who choose to leave. I’ll admire those who choose to stay.
I realize I’ve written an entire column about the Penn State tragedy without mentioning the name of Jerry Sandusky – the coward who brought all this pain to his victims, his school and his community through his sexual deviancy. That’s because this column isn’t about the evil that embodied Sandusky – that’s a topic I could rant about for much longer than this. Rather, this indictment of Penn State is a challenge for all of us who at some point in our lives may be faced with a chance to encounter true evil.
How will we respond? If we surrender to it, we become like Sandusky. If we ignore it, we enable and encourage guys like Sandusky. The only honorable option then is to confront it and remove it. It could be humiliating, it could be messy, it could be costly. But choosing any other route will cost even more in the long run. Penn State encountered evil in 1998 and failed. Now they’re paying a much greater price than if had they done the right thing over a decade ago.