Oh! Poor Penn State!
The latest in a long string of scandals that stretch back to the immemorial past comes to us from Penn State where the football program hauls in huge amounts of money for the school and coaches whose salaries beggar those of anyone in the academic departments. So let us consider the time line here courtesy of the Huffington Post and whatever the source from which they stole it.
In 1969 – that is 42 years ago – Jerry Sandusky, the central figure in this matter, was hired by Penn State to assist head coach, Joe Paterno.
In 1977 – 34 years ago – Mr. Sandusky founded a youth program called The Second Mile. It was initially a group home for “troubled” boys. It eventually grew to become a charity for children with absent and dysfunctional families and, apparently, Sandusky’s personal, perverse flesh market and candy store.
In 1994 – 17 years ago – Mr. Sandusky begins sexually abusing a 10-year old boy from The Second Mile Program, the earliest child abused who has so far come forward.
In 1998 – 13 years ago – the Penn State Campus Police receive the first report of Sandusky showering with a boy who was then 11-years old. After some crocodile tears and promises from Sandusky, the Campus Police, local police and county prosecutor deep-six the issue. Interestingly and possibly irrelevantly the prosecutor at that time was declared dead this past summer after being missing for more than 7 years. I am not a conspiracy theorist but coincidences make me very uneasy.
In 1999 – 12 years ago – Sandusky retires as assistant coach emeritus retaining his privileges to use Penn State facilities.
In the autumn of 2000 – 11 years ago – a Penn State janitor came upon Sandusky in the showers at Penn State fellating a boy who was somewhere between 11 and 13-years old at the time. The janitor reported the incident to his supervisor but didn’t not carry it further because he was only a temporary employee and feared for his job should he accuse a coach under the protection of Joe Paterno.
On March 1, 2002 – 9 and a half years ago - a graduate student finds Sandusky sodomizing a 10-year old boy in the showers at Penn State’s football centre. This student told his father of the incident and the next day personally went to Head Coach Joe Paterno’s home to report it to Paterno.
On March 3, 2002, the day following his meeting with the graduate student, Joe Paterno calls his nominal superior, Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley, to his home and reports the graduate student’s story to Curley. The report to Curley leads to a meeting between Curley and, please note this official’s title, Senior Vice-President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz, with the graduate student who reported to Paterno. The two senior officials of Penn State assure the graduate student that they will look into the matter.
On or about March 27, 2002 Curley contacts the graduate student and assures him that Sandusky’s keys to the Lasch Football Building have been taken away and that they have reported the incident to The Second Mile, the charity that owes its existence to Jerry Sandusky. At or about this same time The General Counsel for Penn State who knew about the abuse allegations and who’d heard Sandusky confess to the abuse during a telephone conversation became General Counsel to The Second Mile Charity. This is significant given the alleged referral to The Second Mile. No further reports are made and no further investigation takes place until December, 2009. Oh, and by the way, this attorney retained his position with The Second Mile until the story broke in the newspapers.
Over the next 7 years following the incident the graduate student reported Sandusky remains involved with The Second Mile and continues to abuse at least two boys who, when the abuse began, were 11-years old or younger.
The first actual action against Sandusky occurs in the spring of 2008 when the mother of one of the boys, now in a Clinton County high school, reports Sandusky’s sexual abuse of her son and the school system forbids Sandusky from engaging with its students. It takes the Pennsylvania Attorney General nearly another year to mount an investigation of Sandusky and a further year to begin action against him and the people who protected him at Penn State.
So here we are more than 3 and a half years after someone finally credited a report of abuse and more than 13 years after the first report that was should have been investigated. The matter is finally in the public view. Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno, and the University President have been summarily fired and what happens? A great outpouring of outrage and sympathy for…wait for it!...Joe Paterno. Why? Not because the allegations against Sandusky are untrue. Not because he bore no responsibility for reporting the abuse when he learned of it 7 years ago. And not because the students and fans wanted to express their support for the child victims. No. The outrage and sympathy comes because he has the all-time record for wins as a football coach.
Nine years after we can confirm that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s abuse and failed to stop it a bunch of jocks and fans are still singing his praises as if he were not part of the problem. Let’s stick to the facts but is it truly credible that Paterno hadn’t any knowledge of Sandusky’s behavior at any time during the 33 years they were working together before the graduate student’s report in 2002? Clearly the Penn State Trustees didn’t think so. It’s also clear that the Trustees, in an effort to evade their own responsibilities in this mess, were clear that the University’s President was more interested in protecting the school’s income from the football program than a potentially unlimited number of young children. However, thousands of Penn State students and fans turned out on the night on November 9th to protest Paterno’s firing rather than the cover up by the University.
Penn State has formed a committee to investigate and suggest a system that will insure that such things will never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, not-on-our-watch, you-should-live-so-long happen again. In short, a committee to paper over the whole stinking cesspool until it gets out of the news and they can go back to protecting what’s important to Penn State, its football program.
The media is describing this as a scandal, which it is in one view but more properly it’s an eruption. The disease has been there all along but this is just the latest eruption of the disease that is sports. The eruptions usually relate to individuals O. J. Simpson, Rae Carruth, Michael Vick come to mind. In these cases they are talented athletes who have been coddled, feted, showered with praise and money often since they were teenagers. At every turn they have been protected by individuals who valued their athletic performance above honesty, decency, social norms or law. Because we have nominal academic standards for our sports figures the also had the benefit of a culture of cheating that allowed them to continue their sports careers long after they should have been dropped from their programs. Similar corruption pertains in athletic programs across the nation where well-heeled boosters, coaches, athletic directors and college officials conspire to cheat while raking in the dollars from alumni and, in many cases, television contracts.
In the midst of this fetid and pervasive swamp there are advocates for paying college athletes, most notably, Historian Taylor Branch. Mr. Branch makes the case that schools are raking in huge piles of cash while treating their players, notably minority players, like plantation field hands. While I understand his point of view, Mr. Branch’s argument is utterly specious. First, the players he claims are treated like slaves are getting scholarships, tutors, cooperative professors, gifts from boosters and frequently people who complete their course work for them lest the school lose a game for want of a key player. The players and sports programs generally are hardly treated like slaves. In fact, Mr. Branch would be hard put to find a campus where the jocks of all colors do not rule. The actual “Shame of College Sports” is the corruption of the winning-is-everything attitude that pervades campuses big and small regardless of rating.
If colleges and universities actually had a scintilla of honesty about them the NCAA or whatever governing body would institute some actual sanctions. For example, players should have to maintain a full academic course load and pass an examination in each course. The examinations should be monitored by outside people qualified in that discipline and who have no connection to any sports program to insure that they genuinely meet the academic standards for continued participation in their sport. If the athlete does not pass, he can’t play, period, until he actually passes without assistance. If a college has boosters who illegally support the sports program, those boosters should be banned from games and even campuses for a period of time and required to contribute equal amounts of cash or the value of gifts to non-sports academic programs before the bans are lifted. If a college or university violates the rules for conduct set down by its own organization, then the coaching staff involved should be fired summarily and the participating coaches, the school administrators who suborned the cheating and the school itself banned from participation in that sport for a minimum of 5 years, no exceptions.
Unfortunately money, the corrupter of everything around it, is involved and corrupts the players, coaches and educational institutions alike. The cry is that the school will lose funding, prestige, funding, the loyalty of key alumni and funding. The answer is that for the first 1, 2 or 3 schools those consequences will, in fact, accrue. And suffering the consequences will entail those problems for the the first 1, 2 or 3 schools after which players, schools and coaches will understand that the days of the We-have-rules-(wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) will end and seriousness has set in. Student athletes who can’t meet academic standards will be gone. Corrupt coaches will be unemployed and unemployable. Corrupt boosters will understand that they need to make legal contributions to their schools rather than illegal contributions to players and the schools themselves will understand that corrupt practices in sports are finished. And one more thing. State schools that have excellent sports teams that bring in television revenues…the television money needs to go to a general higher education state fund to be distributed based on some criteria such as student enrollment to all publicly funded higher education institutions in the state from the lowliest community college to the most prestigious state school. The incentive to excel remains but the incentive for corruption is largely gone. We could similarly require private institutions to implement a similar system by declaring television revenues by definition, a for profit activity and taxing those revenues at all levels of government up through the Federal level unless those revenues are distributed amongst academic as well as sports programs. In fact, the solution to much of the corruption in college sports may be to declare sports programs above the intramural level as for profit industries not subject to any tax exemptions. Then exemptions could be given to that share or revenues distributed to the actual academic programs of the school as charitable contributions so long as those contributions did not provide covert or collateral assistance to the sports program.
Some, perhaps among them Taylor Branch, will suggest that strict academic requirements will disproportionately affect minority students. I would suggest that strict academic standards should disproportionately affect minorities. We are not helping minority students by using up their athletic talents and then spitting them out when their sports careers end with no other skills on which to rely. Colleges and universities need to know that they must actually educate the gifted athlete, that they must protect him or her from injuries that affect both the athletes mental as well as physical abilities. If that means that the most gifted football player of his generation plays for the East Overshoe Community College rather than Penn State so be it.
However, I’m getting away from my point a bit. Jerry Sandusky clearly should have been fired from his coaching job some 17 years ago. He should not have been allowed to quietly retire as coach emeritus 12 years ago to evade prosecution. Penn State Administrators should have had both the clout and will to fire Joe Paterno in 2004 rather than allow him to protect Sandusky further. The fact that at least 2 decades of Sandusky’s known abuse went not only unpunished but rewarded is not just a “Penn State scandal”. That scandal is just the most recent eruption of the corruption that pervades sports programs in and out of academic circles. The scandal is another example of the corruption in our society that stems from the winning-is-everything mentality at colleges, universities, particularly at business schools and in our financial institutions. I have no doubt that this mess at Penn State will drop from the headlines, from the memories of all but a few and that the corruption in and of sports programs will continue apace. I also have no doubt that other scandals will erupt and similarly fade away until someone with the intelligence and the courage to stand up to the fools who demonstrated against Paterno’s firing appear and institute real reforms with real consequences.
And one last thought, if the crop of con artists who call themselves “Libertarians” insist that the free market always yields the correct solution without regulation and government interference, may I suggest the almost completely unregulated market we see here in college sports is the primary refutation of that bald-faced lie.