Before I start, a disclaimer:
I grew up right outside Harrisburg, Pa (one hour and a half from PSU and an hour forty five from Philly). My school bus, classrooms and recesses were electric with excitement after PSU beat Miami for the national championship at the Fiesta Bowl in ’87. I went to Drexel (instead of my other choice PSU) for it’s co-op program and city life (RIP Drexel Football 1973), so I root for Pennsylvania’s university football teams. I’ve had friends from various times in life who’ve played and/or worked for PSU, Pitt, Temple, Villanova or Penn’s football programs. I was fully for Joe Pa staying as long as he wanted because of graduation rates, the donations to PSU, his advocacy for philanthropy and because of his old school stubborness. When the Nittany Lions used a modified “Veer Offense” to win the Big 10 and then beat the Florida State University Seminoles, I watched the whole game and all the overtimes. I went to Temple football games before Al Golden turned the program around. I’ve been a PA taxpayer and resident for my entire life. I pull for my state’s institutions to succeed.
I think for the overall good of Pennsylvania State University and it’s athletic programs, football should be suspended for a year. I think Mark Emmert should give PSU football the “Death Penalty”.
Joe Paterno’s statue was removed today after it became painfully clear that he and fellow PSU administrators actively covered up former PSU player and assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of boys for a over a decade. Sandusky brought his victims to team practices, bowl games and campus even after Paterno, former President Graham Spanier (a powerful figure and near legend in his own right to PSU alumni), VP of Business and Finance Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley knew Sandusky had been seen raping children in campus facilities. Sandusky attended football games with luxury access as late as Fall 2011. Many understand that victims surely do not want to see statue lionizing a man who did nothing to report child rape as to protect his legacy. Penn State Football is the real monument here.
Punishments will always hurt more than the just guilty. And they should. People against suspending a season of PSU fooball say we should not look to punish students and businesses that depend on PSU games for revenue. Not having top tier BCS college football as a class break is not the students being “punished”. It’s a penalty for the program, but class will still be held. Degrees will be awarded and research will still be funded. In this case, since players are not accused of wrong doing there will be other programs willing to accept their transfer. Getting kicked out of school is being punished. Not being allowed to go to school is being punished. This is temporarily removing an extra curricular program and then allowing it to be rebuilt from scratch. As far as businesses, tell me what other business (and college football is a business) we should protect when it’s leaders choose to actively harbor a child rapist for their own gain? Punishments are just that. A criminal gets locked up and their family and loved ones suffer. The people they supported suffer. We can’t ask justice to bend to prevent discomfort.
Even under sanction, reputation can be upheld by loyal true believers. Also, for formal sexual assault allegations against individuals on college campuses, many of us prefer swift and final sanctions. Go back and look at college athletes who have been formerly accused of sexual assault: They are quite often immediately investigated and can easily be dismissed from teams and campuses. Remember the Duke Lacrosse players? Penn state was the extreme analog of that fiasco. Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley didn’t immediately expel or even investigate Sandusky. They didn’t seek out the victim assistant coach and PSU alum Mike McQueary saw being raped in the shower. Instead, they decided treat Sandusky, the child rapist, humanely and not take any action. They did everything wrong in the face of child rape for about 14 years.
Most importantly college athletics are proxies for pride and ego around the nation. Penn State is the rule, not the exception. The reputation at the heart of “We are Penn State” is that athletics are an integral part, not a supplement to University life. It was a reputation that kept recruiters from competing schools from even having a shot with players in Pennsylvania and let PSU recruiters sit down with parents of blue chip recruits nationwide and tout morality as a perk. It was a reputation that kept PSU on TV even in down years. It was a reputation coveted by the Big Ten in 1990 when PSU became a member institution of the expanding conference. The value of this football program to PSU’s reputation needs to be changed.
There may be enough players, administrators and staff in the program that will stay during the lean years caused by sanctions without suspension that insist, and believe like PSU alum, and NFL football great Franco Harris, that the allegations against Joe Paterno just can not be true:
“People down deep know the truth: that there would no way Joe would be involved in a cover up, conspiracy or anything like that..uh(sic)…dealing with these children”
Franco Harris is one of the football greats and PSU grads who considers “Joe Pa” their second grandfather. He is also a prime example of why PSU football needs to be taken away for a year and then be sanctioned and penalized going forward for 4 or more after that. This element of loyalty beyond standard needs to be rooted out. The element where a janitor sees a boy get raped, knows its wrong and fears that him reporting it to his superiors will only result in retribution against him because the rapist is the best damn defensive coordinator in school and college football history needs to be rooted out. The element where an assistant coach reports a child rape to the head football coach, then remains on staff even as the child rapist continues to be paid and honored as coach emeritus by the program. Is he the only employee or staff that looked the other way or kept quiet? Will we ever know?
A year suspension, aka The Death Penalty, will force the university to outgrow these true believers. Without a year off the stands will be full of families cheering on PSU. Penn State football fans will keep box office receipts healthy, especially if the sanctions pull games off of TV. The students, alumni, staff and fans that cheer and believe: “We Are Penn State” will know they have to go to games to see the team they love built by the coach they loved. Even if fines are levied, alumni and lifelong PSU fans will begin to tithe for the program with a fund raising spike every home Saturday. When the Nittany Lions travel, look for even greater groups of PSU fans road tripping to support this legacy. A school that has Dance Marathon (the largest student run philanthropy in the world) has no problems turning out bodies and cash in support of a cause they believe in. The believers in Joe Pa, have already started to rally:
Penn State students recently changed the name of the area where they camp out for tickets the week of home football games to “Nittanyville” from “Paternoville.”
Without a year off, alumni like Franco Harris will show up on PSU sidelines this fall to become a group of living surrogates for Joe Pa’s legend. The returning players will maintain their scholarships as scholarships to practice and play football even if replaced with scholarships from the university, they’ll see themselves as the last of Joe Pa’s recruits. The players who enrolled this year will be the neophytes of that group and they will form a gestalt of players for a legacy. They will train, practice and play harder than ever to prove that the program Joe Pa built is of unimpeachable integrity and make us forget . They will strive to be an enduring symbol of Paterno in the face of all opposing teams game after game.
They will prove they can’t readily deal with the aftermath of these crimes to committed to protect football with football being played. Not because they are bad people, or because they don’t care that kids were raped, but because “Joe Pa” was no nickname or persona, he was family to them, and many of us support if not protect our family in the face of the most heinous evidence instead of trying to cope with what the evidence means about the people we care about. Joe Pa’s legacy doesn’t need any more protectors. It needs to be stripped away so that people begin to look at what they really had and have. What they do have is an athletic program run by people who decided the legacy of a football team was more important than jailing a child rapist, preventing further injury to children or finding justice for children who had been abused.
A death penalty would be painful antiseptic and ultimately right. This talk of unprecedented penalties is welcome, but not enough. Some of the players will stay no matter what, but if football is taken away by NCAA President Mark Emmert many will take their get out of Happy Valley free cards if football is gone for a year. The players that stay, would never be convinced that things needed to change, but they will already be just students for a year by the time they return. They’ll have to adapt. The coaches who I would guess most likely to stay in the face of football under the weight of extreme sanctions without suspension are coaches who have long ties to Penn State and Paterno the idol. There would be no clean house, no clean accounting of idolization as a gateway to rationalizing an idols machinations as good and right. Under suspension, there would be no program for them to run to bolster Paterno’s image. Everyone would have to leave and acknowledge that Joe Paterno’s monument, the football program, was rotting from the inside out and the rot began with Sandusky and was allowed to fester by Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley.