I grew up in Big Ten country (long before PSU became a member!): there were coaches that even the most die-hard Buckeye fans had to offer up (begrudging) respect. Joe Paterno was one of them. He ran a clean program. He stood for what college athletics is about: winning with class. Yes, he should have retired about 15 years ago but he was JoePa as iconic to Happy Valley as John Wooden was to UCLA. This past year we just didn’t learn there wasn’t Santa: we learned that Santa stole from our best friend to give to our most despised enemy. I know, in part, that is why it hurts. We didn’t want to believe that one of the greater than life legends of college athletics knowingly covered up the sexual abuse of children. We wanted to believe one of his last interviews with Sally Jenkins that he didn’t know what was going on. The emails, the notes when they became public weren’t so much stunning revelations as much as confirmations of what we didn’t want to believe.
As the NCAA fast tracked the investigation process, rumors swirled about the death penalty. A part of me wanted PSU to receive a total death penalty (with scholarships honored) for all sports, Paterno set the culture at PSU. PSU has a history of discrimination in athletics (case and point, Renee Portland). A larger part of me realized that the death penalty for PSU football beyond punishing the players who were not on campus at the time of the coverup, punished the wider community. The local economy depends on football season: State College is a town of roughly 42,000 people: the football stadium houses 106,000 people. The tax revenue alone probably funds a majority of the local government budget. The restaurants, bars, stores, the minimum wage workers all suffer the most with a death penalty.
Is 60 million dollars enough: I’m not sure. The football revenue in 2010 was 52 million dollars. Football, in part, funds non-revenue sports (and scholarships). Is it a good move that the money will be placed into a trust not to be used by the university but administered to assist and raise awareness of the childhood sexual abuse. The NCAA is allowing all current players (including freshman) to transfer without penalty. The huge scholarship limits over the next four years will force PSU into massive rebuilding. The additional sanctions by the Big 10 in not allowing revenue sharing from bowl games will be an additional reminder.
The NCAA penalty “lack of institutional control” has been seen as laughable. Before, it would mean an extra year of probation or maybe an additional scholarship. The NCAA spoke loud and clear today: even though an NCAA violation did not occur (really), the NCAA acted in a manner which will serve as a reminder for years to come. While those in Happy Valley will mourn what was: maybe they will (eventually) see that just like Santa, Paterno’s legend was mythical. He was a flawed man who made a horrible mistakes. As the leader of the organization, even in his death, his corporation must be punished. They will suit up in Happy Valley this fall. They will play for the love of the sport. And at the end of the day, maybe, just maybe more individuals will have the courage to come forward and speak up about corporate corruption, harm to children and issues which need to be voiced.
If any good is to come out of this tragedy, may it be that if you and three of your friends go out for drinks, one of you was probably abused as a child. It’s time we start to have that conversation and build resources to help survivors heal. There will always be pedophiles. When the shame of being a victim is one begins to lessen through education, awareness and action that we can learn from because of Penn State, only then can we say we learned a lesson from Sandusky and Paterno.