Friday, January 4th, 2013
The governor of Pennsylvania is now challenging – legally – the steep sanctions imposed against Penn State by the NCAA in response to the sordid Sandusky scandal. The basic argument the governor is offering is not a new one: it’s that the university and football program should not be punished for the actions of a few. And this argument remains as flawed – and offensive – as ever.
Look, the “few” who were punished for their acts included: a former assistant coach (who sexually abused boys on the Penn State premises), the revered head coach, the athletic director, a vice president, and the president of the university. This isn’t just a “few” whose actions were reprehensible (Sandusky), misguided or worse (Paterno), and downright offensive and in fact criminal (the university officials). A university is not just an abstract entity: it’s a complex infrastructure with its own set of working rules. Clearly, at Penn State, the chain that connected the football program to the athletic program to the president of the university was exposed as being morally bankrupt and insulated from the real world for many years. Let’s also remember who the victims were – youth – and the crimes committed against them – sexual abuse.
Since the sanctions were imposed, Penn State has responded in an honorable manner. They have taken every step to rebuild the image of the university as an institution that will not put athletics ahead of the fundamental educational and moral values that it must uphold. They had vigils. They have hosted a conference on preventing child abuse. They have housed – for many years – professors and researchers who contribute much to improving the lives of children. The football program conducted itself with pride this year and showed respect for the victims.
I get, in a practical sense, that many people at Penn State are bearing the burden of the few. I congratulate them for taking this on. It’s the right thing to do. If they weren’t doing that, we’d have no confidence that things have really changed much there. I would hope that the governor of Pennsylvania would see that and support that – because his message is that we should all forget about the criminal acts that were committed there and the extensive efforts made to protect the university rather than help the victims. We should never forget what happened there. Let Penn State continue to absorb the sanctions with honor and with a forward looking perspective to be sure that the phrase “Penn State Proud” resonates in a good way.
Penn State Building via Shutterstock.com
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Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
This week the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against the Penn State football program in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. If you don’t follow college football closely, suffice it to say that the NCAA is putting in provisions that will create a substantial overhaul of Penn State football that will unfold over a number of years.
The magnitude of these actions – which can be seen as being both punitive and corrective – have been debated some, but the reality is that Penn State accepted them without a fight. It’s clear that the “egregious” (that seems to be the word of choice, and appropriately so) nature of the acts and the lack of an effective checks and balances system at Penn State that covered up these acts (and failed to prevent future ones as well) left no choice but to require a major overhaul of the program and its relation to the university.
For me, this is an important moment in college sports, in that it is making the strong statement that they are putting kids first. You can read here the news release from the NCAA that highlighted why they took such strong actions. But I’ll cite here one quote that sums it up:
“As the individuals charged with governing college sports, we have a responsibility to act. These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the ‘sports are king’ mindset that can so dramatically cloud the judgment of educators.”
There are certainly many uninvolved people – especially current student athletes – who are negatively affected by the sanctions. But the magnitude of the failure of the athletic and administrative officers in the past require that the program be rebuilt slowly and with resolve to, first and foremost, honor the responsibility of respecting kids’ rights above all else – and having an effective structure in place to make sure this happens.
When I look back at my graduate days at Penn State, I remember working with world-class professors and researchers. I remember being challenged and nurtured to grow as a professional and as a person. I remember there being checks and balances in place to make sure I completed my academic requirements properly. And I know that if my behavior violated basic ethical principles, that would not have been tolerated.
In a prior blog post, I suggested that we parents can take from this scandal the need to cultivate informed trust with individuals and institutions who are responsible for nurturing our children. I think these sanctions echo that sentiment and provide an opportunity to make sure that principle becomes central to the football program at Penn State.
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