NCAA Sanction Emphasizes Paterno’s Personal Culpability in Rape Scandal

Paterno statue

The statue's gone, and won't be back

Any severe punishment ripples well beyond the intended target.  When a wage-earner is jailed, his or her dependents suffer materially, even though they may be entirely blameless.  A corporate fine or legal judgment comes, indirectly at least, out of innocent shareholders’ pockets.  The fines and other sanctions announced against Penn State today will damage the entire university, and the crippling of the football program will even affect the regional economy in Central Pennsylvania.

Such collateral damage is inevitable to some degree, but anyone who hands out sanctions should take care to focus them as much as possible on the actual culprit.  I think the NCAA did an elegant job of this by vacating all of Joe Paterno’s wins during the decade-long period when he abetted and covered up the ongoing rape and molestation of young boys by his former deputy, Jerry Sandusky.

Vacating 14 seasons of the team’s victories may be purely symbolic — but what a symbol.  The beauty of it is that it strips Paterno of his status as the winningest coach in college football history, and permanently ties him to the scandal, without causing any practical damage for anyone else.  The Penn State players from 1998 through 2011 who went on to pro careers will still have those pro careers.

“JoePa” and the other top leaders of Penn State demonstrated what can only be called depraved indifference to the presence of a sexual predator in their midst.  From the Freeh report:

Pages 21-23:

August 1999: Sandusky is granted “emeritus” rank, which carries several privileges, including access to University recreational facilities.
December 1999: Sandusky brings Victim 4 to 1999 Alamo Bowl.
Sandusky assaults Victim 4 at team hotel.
November 2000: Sandusky assaults Victim 8 in Lasch Building shower.
Janitor observes assault by Sandusky, but does not report the assault for fear that “they’ll get rid of all of us.”
February 9, 2001: Sandusky assaults Victim 2 in Lasch Building shower.
McQueary witnesses the assault by Sandusky.
McQueary reports the assault to Paterno on Saturday, February 10; Paterno tells McQueary, “you did what you had to do.  It’s my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Page 103:

Despite Spanier’s, Schultz’s, Paterno’s and Curley’s knowledge of criminal investigations of Sandusky regarding child abuse as early as 1998, they failed to control Sandusky’s access to the University’s facilities and campuses.

Paterno’s family and others will continue to fight a rearguard action to try to rehabilitate Paterno’s “legacy.”  The NCAA’s personalized sanctions will help ensure against myth-making.