Starting with our Puritan origins, American society has always placed great emphasis on assessing blame. Punishment is often arbitrary, judgment delivered as much by public opinion as by jury. We believe unacceptable acts are the isolated works of individuals, the few bad apples, people who are weak, morally flawed, or just plain evil. We prefer the clean ending of blame and punishment, shoot the rabid dog and the danger is cured. Rarely does society examine how to prevent crime or cure the disease. More troubling is that we are averse to holding institutions or society accountable for creating the conditions that spawn aberrant behavior and group think.
The Sandusky crimes and Penn State’s actions, as detailed in the recent trial and in the Freeh Report, the accessing of blame and meting out of punishment will happen satisfactorily or not. However, I am doubtful the systemic issues and our cultural priorities that created the continuation of the crimes and cover-ups will be addressed.
If Sandusky had been a “brilliant mathematician” working under math department, “chairman and two-time Nobel Laureate” Joe Paterno, would Penn State have acted the same way? Penn State is not responsible for the repugnant crimes Sandusky committed prior to the University becoming aware, after they gave refuge to a predator. The real question not going to be addressed is what was it about football that became more important than doing the right thing? And what can we do to prevent it from happening again?
University |ˌyo͞onəˈvərsətē| noun (pl. universities ) an educational institution designed for instruction, examination, or both, of students in many branches of advanced learning, conferring degrees in various faculties, and often embodying colleges and similar institutions.
Nowhere in the above definition do you see terms like football power, athletic department cash-cow or professional sport feeder program.
Penn State got lost in its priorities. We internalize our affiliation to a successful football program as a reflection of our personas to share in the success. Corporate and societal cultures like this are hard to change. So how do we change culture as well as hold it accountable for allowing the molestation of children and its cover up? Think about that again-Allowing the molestation of children to protect the reputation of a football program. Bile is in my throat as I write this.
I know my suggestions will not be popular in some quarters. The football program in its entirety should be killed for at least five years, preferably by Penn State’s own board of Trustees. Not as penitence, not out of remorse but out of responsibility. No clearer message than killing the football program can be sent about what is acceptable behavior by the University. The Trustees would be reaffirming Penn State’s true purpose and reason to exist. Institutions are rarely brave or enlightened enough for such actions and if Trustees fail to kill the culture of silence, than the NCAA must intervene decisively.
Many in the sports nation were appalled by Southern Methodist University’s persistent recruiting violations, and applauded the NCAA for giving the football program the death penalty for the 1987 season. The ban was extended to 1998 by SMU. All recruits and players were allowed to transfer without losing eligibility.
SMU had a storied football tradition including the 1949 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker to the 1982 undefeated season lead by the Pony Express backfield featuring Eric Dickerson. The Mustangs, a Division 1 NCAA football powerhouse, received the death penalty, recovered and gradually rebuilt their program.
If SMU deserved the death penalty for paying young men to play football, why should Penn State go unpunished for harboring a pedophile?
The State of Pennsylvania appropriates about eight percent of Penn State’s annual operating budget. That appropriation should terminate. If terminating is not politically palatable it should at least be conditioned on full-compliance with Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Statue. Penn State is no longer the driving force in educating the children of farmers and coal miners. It is one of the most expensive in-state tuition universities in the country. It is an outstanding educational institution that is a large and successful part of what is good in Pennsylvania but it is no longer serving its original mission or the taxpayers.
Without the football program and state funds Penn State can focus on becoming what it almost already is, a world-class educational institution. Penn State would be free to close unsustainable campuses. It would have to think twice if an architectural gem of a building in central PA is more important than holding the line on tuition or hiring a world-class academic.
Our country and our state are competing against the entire world. The engineers and scientists from China, Singapore and Germany could care less if there is another championship trophy collecting dust in State College. The quality our lives and security of our livelihoods are improved more by what we innovate and teach to others than the football program ever will.
I don’t want to hear the excuse the football program supports all athletics or the few hundred student athletes who get scholarships could not go to university any other way. Those scholarships could go to academically superior students unable to go to college any other way. The argument of skills and competition makes as much sense if not more to support academic prowess as athletic.
As long as phrase “We are Penn State” means a successful football program and not a great school there will always be the opportunity for protecting the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Penn State will always have an excuse not to be a great a University as defined above. Killing football will free Penn State from the petty pursuit of athletic excellence in order to pursue real excellence, or else the rest of the world in which we compete will win the only championships that matter and we all will pay the consequences of playing a game.
 New Oxford American Dictionary
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