“Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.” Joe Paterno
It started over the weekend when roads were blocked leading to Beaver Stadium. Then workers put up a fence. Workers shrouded the statue of Joe Paterno and a forklift raised it from the ground and hauled it away. Workers then removed the likenesses of football players and the plaques on the wall behind where the statue stood. The symbolism was as heavy as the 7 foot tall bronze statue of Joe Pa was carried away in a sling.
It was somewhat reminiscent of the statues of dictators being removed after their death or overthrow. It was like the smashing of idols. The empty wall a symbol of the emptiness of success without honor. Honor that was lost when Paterno and other leaders of the University and the Athletic Department covered up the crimes of a serial pedophile and now convicted child abuser named Jerry Sandusky.
We knew that the penalties were coming. It was inevitable the day after the crimes came out and the NCAA talked about them. It was doubly so after the release damning evidence of the Freeh Report and the criminal conviction of Jerry Sandusky.
The penalties fell short of the so called NCAA “Death Penalty” but the results may be about the same. The School was fined 61 million dollars. All of its wins going back to the 1998 season were vacated. It had the number of scholarships that it could offer by 20 per year for 4 years and current scholarship holders are being offered the chance to transfer to another school without penalty. It has been banned from bowl appearances for four years and is on a five year NCAA probation in which more penalties can be imposed.
Penn State fans and supporters of Joe Pa are upset. In some ways I don’t blame them. Joe Pa was an icon in Happy Valley. His coaching abilities were legendary. He was hailed as one of the good guys who made sure that his football players completed their education. The success of the athletic program in particular the football program brought in big money to Happy Valley, it helped the University raise fund programs outside the athletic department. It was a great deal for everyone concerned…well maybe not.
The sad thing is that the student athletes most affected by the penalties had nothing to do with either the crimes of Jerry Sandusky or the cover-up that was engineered by the top officials of the University and Joe Paterno beginning in 1998 for sure, but maybe even before that. It was a 14 year cover up of criminal actions that enabled a serial pedophile to commit more crimes against children. The engineers of this cover-up with the exception of Joe Paterno will likely face criminal charges of their own and the University will most likely be hammered by multiple lawsuits by victims and their families. The pain for university will go on and on because of the collective malfeasance of Penn State officials including Joe Paterno.
I am not an admirer of the NCAA. One can criticize the cash whores of the NCAA leadership that make obscene profits from the marketing and sales of NCAA College Football and I frequently do. One can criticize the NCAA for its hypocrisy for many things, however for once it probably did the right thing.
Had those that covered up the crimes simply been low level administrators this would have still been a terrible scandal. However, the fact that the most powerful men at the university knew about Sandusky’s crimes and did nothing makes makes the cover up of Sandusky’s crimes more heinous and despicable. President Grant Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz , Athletic Director Tom Curley and Joe Paterno all knew. They knew details. They all had the power to put an end to the crimes. Had they acted in 1998 or 2001 there would be no penalties. Joe Pa’s statue would still be up. The legend would not only remain untarnished but might have even been enhanced because they would have been on the side of law, morality and simple human decency. Instead they covered up the crimes and in doing so devastated the institution that they supposedly were attempting to protect. Edmund Burke said “When good men do nothing, evil triumphs.”
Every day institutions are held liable for crimes committed by their employees, especially when they knew about them and did nothing to stop the perpetrators. For once a premier college football program has been has been held accountable. It is about time. I hope that the NCAA has the moral fortitude to be as severe to other programs should another administration decide to cover up felonies.
This is not pleasant. The action is a watershed event because it is the first time that the NCAA has ever assessed penalties in a scandal not related to recruiting or paying players. The NCAA has finally laid down the law on something that really matters. It will be interesting to see if any other institution elects to cover up the crimes committed by leaders in their athletic programs.
This will not make those that loved Joe Pa and his program feel good. It is a bitter pill to swallow and Happy Valley will never be the same. If I was a Penn State graduate or had a personal connection to that university I might feel just as they do.
What has transpired since November is something that this time last year no one could have ever contemplated at Penn State. Maybe we could think of it happening somewhere else but not there. Joe Pa would never allow it. So we thought and we were wrong. According to the Freeh Report he not only allowed it but played an active role in the cover up. Paterno’s family and some supporters continue to fight for his legacy. That is their right. However when those involved in the cover-up go to trial and when the lawsuits are brought, the case for Joe Pa will not be any better. In fact it may be even worse than we know now.
Hopefully as bad as this is that it will make leaders of other large athletic programs around the country take notice. Hopefully it will prevent something like this from ever happening again.