I’m sure everyone in America has heard the news about Penn State: the university received the harshest penalties this side of the “death penalty” for the despicable crimes committed by a member of their football coaching staff. On top of a $60 million fine, the school is banned from post-season play for four years, is on probation for five years, loses scholarships and must vacate every win since 1998, transforming Joe Paterno overnight from college football’s winningest coach to twelfth on the list since 111 of his wins were vacated.
To hear the folks from Penn State complain about this, you’d think they were being overly punished for a normal, garden-variety mistake. No! The university not only showed poor ethical judgment from the top down (the President, Athletic Director, Assistant Athletic Director and Head Football Coach exchanged emails acknowledging the problem and opted to ignore Sandusky’s crimes for the sake of the football program), but they engaged in heinous criminal behavior: THEY HARBORED A PEDOPHILE. For 14 years. They knew what Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was doing with those young boys (under the auspices of trying to “help” these at-risk kids) but they turned the other way and even shepherded this criminal…all for the sake of their football team.
Since the sanctions came down yesterday, it’s been the sole subject on every sports blog, radio show and television show; the topic crossed over to national news; it even had a major segment on “The Five,” that wondrously super-intelligent show on the Fox News Channel that delves into (mostly) political and current events. Yesterday, everyone was offering their opinion on this issue – sanctions were too harsh; sanctions weren’t harsh enough – and today, that discussion has morphed into whether or not Penn State will survive these sanctions.
And, you better know that everyone has an opinion, especially the Nittany Lions. Anthony Lubrano, a new trustee for Penn State and an alum was “deeply disappointed” in the sanctions and thought the university “rolled over” to the NCAA, accepting the penalties without putting up a fight. The Paterno Family issued a statement that read, in part: “That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni. Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky’s crimes does not serve justice. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public's understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.”
Meanwhile, the press captured reaction shots of Penn State fans when they heard the news, some crying and others shaking their heads in disappointment and anger at the harshness. Others are beginning to compute the cost of these sanctions to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania and how such a near-death knell will impact the 1700 people whose lives are intertwined with Penn State’s athletic department and football program. And, this doesn’t include the tertiary folks who could be affected: the restaurants, hotels and other businesses that are direct recipients of the dollars spent by those who travel to State College for Nittany Lions home games.
I understand their pain…I really do. After all, I am a diehard Trojan and our USC football team is just now coming off a horrific set of infractions that absolutely did not fit the team’s crime. Now, some will say that I have no objectivity at all because I look at our sanctions as overly harsh. Well, they were. And, this was part of the problem for PennState. If you look at the reason why USC received a two-year bowl ban, a loss of 30 scholarships and the vacating of wins, you’ll see my point. This incredibly tough set of sanctions was mostly because of two athletes: a basketball player who was a one-and-done kid and a football player whose parents (emphasize: parents) lived in a place rent-free while their son was at USC. While neither situation was appropriate or legal in NCAA’s world, these were hardly worth the sanctions the team received. (And, I still contend that there is not a single football coach out there who should be asking their students where their parents are living and how those parents are paying their rent!)
So, with such harsh sanctions, where was the NCAA to go when criminal activity of the most heinous kind was uncovered and that the top officials of the university not only knew about it but turned the other cheek? They had to double (or triple) down on the sanctions they handed to USC.
Frankly, I don’t think the sanctions were harsh enough. It’s not that I want to see any football program lose its viability. For most of its years, Penn State football was a good program, led by a popular coach who many say had a positive influence on the young men he coached. But, JoePa and his cohorts preferred greed over goodness; money over ethical behavior. In the most ironic twist ever, they worked to conceal Sandusky’s crimes to protect their money, their program and JoePa’s legacy and ended up losing it all and more.
If that’s not the perfect moral to the story, what is?
But, if Penn State fans are like Trojan fans (and some argue they are all that and more), they will support the team and stand behind JoePa’s legacy. (One fan, a season ticket holder for 40 years, said he would not miss a game because the team needs the fans’ support and I’m sure he’s not alone.) Granted, they’re going to be criticized heavily for such misplaced loyalty but they won’t care. They will be pushed to the limits of their frustration as they experience some rather lean years -- few wins, no hope, small attendance. But, even those things won't matter to the fans, who will stick it out through the 10 years or more that it's going to take to rebuild the program. Because, when you love your team – just like when you love your child – it’s unconditional. You may be disappointed and get mad at the bad behavior, but if you’re a good fan, you move on and look to the future.
That’s what Trojans fans are doing. We survived. So will the Nittany Lions.
What do you think, Readers? I know you have an opinion on this topic. Post it below.
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