Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That'll Teach You to Play by the Rules, Penn State

The verdict is in, the dust has settled, and, guess what, people are outraged. And why shouldn't they be? After all, the recent sanctions handed down by the NCAA are just one more in a string of knee-jerk reactions from the public on the final great unifying force for Americans, sex abuse scandals.

The punishment begins with a sixty million dollar fine. This and this alone seems like an appropriate punishment, and the number could have been much higher. That sum, equal to only one year of Penn State football revenue, will come exclusively from the athletics fund and will be used exclusively to fund sex abuse charities across the country. There is a logical connection here between the sexual abuse which was, to some extent, permitted by some members of the institution and the consequence for that complicity. From there, the NCAA added a loss of athletic scholarships and a four year post season ban, which is non-sensical but expected. Perhaps it may have some value as a deterrent, assuming, of course, that there are institutions out there who actually care more about the integrity of their football program than about pedophiles in their midst as so many fast-tongued commentators are implying about Penn State.

The real source of unrest, both mine and the Penn State community's, is the nullification of fourteen years of wins. The NCAA, in their inscrutable wisdom, decided that they would begin with the first abuse allegation and just erase the history of Penn State football from then until the present. Explain to me, who does that serve? Certainly not the victims, unlike the sixty million dollars about to flood abuse charities. And who does it punish? Not Sandusky, who has the tender affection of his fellow prisoners to look forward to as punishment. Not anyone in the administration who may have been complicit, since they have all been indicted, forced out, or fired.

It actually is pretty obvious who the revision of history is meant to penalize. None other than Joe Paterno, who, in losing those wins, has forever lost his place as the winningest coach in major college football. If you'll pardon the indelicacy, I'd like to congratulate the NCAA on coming as close as imaginable to literally using their authority to beat a dead horse. For my part, I agree with the Paterno family, that JoePa continues to be presumed guilty until proven innocent:

The point of due process is to protect against this sort of reflexive action. Joe Paterno was never interviewed by the University or the Freeh Group. His counsel has not been able to interview key witnesses as they are represented by counsel related to ongoing litigation. We have had no access to the records reviewed by the Freeh group. The NCAA never contacted our family or our legal counsel. And the fact that several parties have pending trials that could produce evidence and testimony relevant to this matter has been totally discounted.

Unfortunately all of these facts have been ignored by the NCAA, the Freeh Group and the University.

But let's say that Paterno is every bit as guilty as the most rabid conspiracy theorist believes him to be. You tear down his statue. You un-paint his halo. You--which is to say, Nike, Brown, the Big Ten, and so many more--blot out his name. Now you re-write history just to strip him of his records. What is this obsession with punishing the dead? He's dead! Dead and buried. It makes it very difficult to take all this self-righteous scapegoating very seriously when the scapegoat has already been slaughtered. The fact that an organization the magnitude of the NCAA has felt the need to jump on the bandwagon and actively repudiate Joe Paterno in the sternest way it knows how shows just how little courage and conviction remains in the world.

Stripping Penn State of those wins serves no purpose, except to satisfy the obligatory indignation of the corporations and the masses to whom they peddle their wares. It certainly doesn't actually bother the dearly departed Paterno (though it seems a trifle cruel to his entirely innocent family who have to suffer through the public flogging of his corpse). Instead, it sends a message to past and future players of Penn State, that their efforts on the field, the victories they achieve by the sweat of their brow, the brutality they subject their bodies to, are all in the hands of a fickle overlord who, at any moment, may wave a wand and erase them. "This is not a football related issue. We didn't cheat at football and they shouldn't take our wins," observed a Penn State freshman. That simple, off-the-cuff logic has all the rational force necessary to overturn the NCAA calculated decision.

Nevermind that football doesn't really matter. Nevermind the pious but empty cries for "justice" that thinly mask bloodlust. The principle at stake here is fairness and a rational ordering of society. This ruling proudly announces the message that you can do everything right, play by all the rules (as the players did), and you can still be punished. Punished for someone else's crime. Punished to satiate a media fueled public outrage. Punished retroactively and without recourse to appeal. That, to me, is a greater catalyst for evil than leniency. After all, if they can come for you anyway, why be good to begin with?

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