Penalty Box

Few of us could have missed the publicity and uproar surrounding the arrest, trial, and conviction of Penn State’s former football coach Jerry Sandusky for years of molesting children.  The issue of sanctions and penalties for the school in general bears merit because it is clear that there were people at varying levels of the school’s administration who understood that something was wrong and yet did nothing.  This is not the first time that strong sanctions and penalties have been levied on teams and entire sports programs for the misconduct of individuals, but it strikes me as a curious one.  

There is the monetary fine, which seems appropriate.  Administrators and officials at the school failed in their moral duty to protect young people from the abuse of one of their employees.  The fine serves as a painful reminder to the school – and a cautionary tale to other schools – that covering up evil is not a profitable venture.  The amount of $60 million is apparently equal to one year’s worth of revenue from the football program.  I’m sure it will be lost in the other discussions at this time, but that’s an amazing figure that ought to have us discussing a variety of other issues regarding sports programs tied to institutions of higher learning, but oh well.
Recruitment scholarships have been trimmed from  25 to 15 for the next four years, and 20 other scholarships have been eliminated over the next four years.  Now we move into sanctions that seem to be aimed at crippling the sports program for years to come.  Not just four years, but more likely closer to a decade.  While there is precedent for this sort of action, I’m somewhat confused as to the rationale behind it.  I’m assuming that they want to make sure that the football program doesn’t continue to do well in the near future, so that there’s nothing of Sandusky’s legacy that remains unaffected.  Any better insights on this one?
Preventing any legacy of Sandusky to survive seems to be the point of banning Penn State’s football team from post-season play for the next four years as well.  There’s no chance of them winning any sort of title or championship, no way for Sandusky supporters to take comfort in the performance of a team that still bears his imprint.  Putting the team on probation for five years seems like a reasonable thing to do, except that the main perpetrator(s) behind this whole fiasco are already gone.  Is there the fear that there are other closet predators related to the team that need to be monitored?
The last penalty is the one I have the hardest time with.  All of the team’s victories from 1998 to 2011 are repudiated and invalidated.  This effectively reduces Sandusky’s winning streak by a little over 100 games, and ensures that he is not remembered as any type of winningest coach.  
The intent overall is to penalize the school for not stepping in when people clearly knew there was a problem.  Understood.  The intent is also to destroy the legacy of the man who perpetrated these awful crimes.  Understood – to an extent.  And this is where things get tricky.  Because regardless of what moves are made on paper to rewrite Sandusky’s legacy, his legacy remains.  Those games were won.  Yes, they were won under the guidance of a man with severe and dangerous moral failures.  But they were won.  His players won those games.  Sandusky isn’t the only one being tarnished here.  Everyone who played under him for 13 years suddenly has their achievements taken from them.  Is the assertion that everyone on the team for all 13 years understood what was going on?  That would be impressive, and would certainly warrant such severe measures.  
But I truly doubt that anyone is asserting such widespread complicity in Sandusky’s sin.  
Sandusky is going to be vilified for many years to come.  His reputation has been destroyed.  Just as the evil he perpetrated can’t be erased, neither can whatever good things he accomplished.  The assumption seems to be that someone who evidences moral failure or the active perpetration of evil in one realm is incapable of producing anything good in another realm.  This seems to be naive at best.  This is not the way people work, for better and worse.  Does the NCAA think that people will justify Sandusky’s evil because he was a really good coach?  Does the NCAA think that other schools will be tempted to permit similar evils because, after all, they’ll get to keep their trophies once the dust settles?  Does the NCAA think that Penn State is really going to be touting the accomplishments of Sandusky for future recruitment?  
And what about the teams and schools that are now suddenly victors because of the invalidation of Sandusky’s victories?  How weird is that?  Oh, we know you lost those games all those years ago, but now you get the trophy because their coach turned out to be a bad man.  Congratulations!  How awkward is that?  Who wins in the decision to rewrite or unwrite history?  What metric do we use to determine when that ought to be done?  
Maybe I’m missing something here, in which case, I’d love to hear your perspectives!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s