With the announcement July 23 of the unprecedented sanctions against the Penn State football program by the NCAA, many have been quick to accuse the NCAA of going too far, of acting out of a false sense of urgency, of overstepping its bounds and of punishing unfairly so many who had so little to do with the worst scandal in the history of American sports.
Anyone who argues for anything less than the harshest possible consequences is guilty of the same sugar coating and buck passing that led to this horror in the first place. When systemic child rape is what we’re talking about, it should never be forgotten that systemic child rape is what we’re talking about. At Penn State, child rape was sanctioned for fourteen years. Let me repeat that: fourteen years.
During all that time, the predator was protected and excused and allowed to predate. A catastrophic failure of athletic and academic leadership prevailed for more than a decade and Joe Paterno was the enabler-in-chief.
This nasty episode should remind us of one history’s great lessons. When the king makes a mistake, the kingdom suffers. We do well to accept this lesson because it reminds us to hold kings accountable.
And for what mistake is Paterno and the PSU elite accountable? The forced, brutal, sexual abuse of society’s most vulnerable citizens — disadvantaged children. Under the logo. In the stadium.
For a second, try to imagine yourself in the place of those young boys, helpless and ignored, a monster at your back, with no one to save you, not even those you turn to for help. Now imagine it continuing for fourteen years.
In the face of such evil, no judgment is acceptable except to let the hammer fall, and let it fall in the harshest way allowed by law. As it stands, Penn State will continue to compete in football, will offer scholarships, will murmur to itself about the injustices of this or that aspect of the punishment. The fact is the school got off easy. A more stentorian judgment would be to ban Penn State from participating in football for the same amount of time Jerry Sandusky was allowed to sexually abuse children – 14 years or more.
And as for the late Joe Paterno, whose last name in a cruel irony derives from the Latin for “father,” his so-called legacy should be left in shambles. Merely removing his bronze figure from the stadium grounds is hardly enough.
A scorched earth policy is needed to make the point that should be made for all time: never feed a monster in the labyrinth to avoid his discovery; never place public image above moral obligation. And if such things are done when the stakes are no higher than winning ball games, there shall be no mercy.