Penn State, Blame and the NCAA – Updated

I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this, but I guess I am.  Wish I didn’t feel the need, or that there was anything to write about.  But there you go.  I’m not going to recount the details at any level.  That’s been done plenty in other places.

I have been fascinated by this story.  Not by the crimes, the terrible failures of leaders, the men who stood by and did nothing in exactly the situation where any person with a shred of compassion would have taken marked action.  Those things are tragic, but I think speak more to social inertia and to the incredible failure of a system that is supposedly designed to protect our youth. I don’t want to hear more of that than I already have.

I am, though, fascinated by the reaction of those uninvolved, or at least those whose involvement goes not further than their connection with the school, the football program, the coach, or to sports in general.  People who have made their voice heard on talk radio shows, ESPN, local newspapers and, of course, the Interwebs.  And far, far too many have spoken up in defense of Joe Paterno.  (For the record, I define too many, in this case, as any number greater than zero.)

Much of the bickering is over at whose feet would should lay the blame for this tragedy.  Some, quite understandably, demand the blame belongs to the perpetrator.  No argument here.  There’s not a punishment great enough.  But many of those people defend the coach, as he reported what he heard through “proper channels.”  The administration handed it to the police.  The police investigated and decided nothing need be done.  Time marched on, as did the string of events and victims.  The system failed.  Which of the people should take the blame?

Here’s the thing.  There’s no need to point fingers in the chain of command.  Every last one of these men are culpable.  Those who are concerned about the “legend” of JoePa are in arms that he was fired over the phone.  Stay tuned.  It’s not out of the question that a prosecutor decides to go ballistic on this case and file charges against everyone who knew anything.  And I have to admit, I’d be just fine with that.  If you knew something, anything, and stood idly by, that in my mind makes you part of what happened.

There’s another aspect that I’m waiting to hear, and that’s the NCAA response.  On the same day that Paterno was fired, ESPN ran this story that Ohio State (sorry, THE Ohio State) “will face a ‘failure to monitor’ charge in addition to more allegations of rules violations by its troubled football program.”  That big deal about players getting free tattoos seems a little silly now, right?  Are you sure that “failure to monitor” note wasn’t intended for someone a little further east?

The NCAA is ready to step in whenever revenue is threatened or there is a perceived inequity in player treatment.  Except Cam Newton, of course.  How could they consider standing idle in this case?  It may be that they are waiting for the facts to come out, then plan to step in.  I hope that’s the case.  If not, it will be as great a failure as they have ever had.  They have handed out their “death penalty” to programs for recruiting and eligibility violations.  They take the team off the field, cancel scholarships, take away bowl and television appearances.

If you want to make sure schools, not to mention anyone who works for or with those schools in the capacity of watching over youths who come their way, take this to heart, you need to make a statement.  A bold one.

Take away the Penn State football program. 

I don’t mean a few scholarships.  I don’t mean their bowl rights.  I don’t mean their wins.  I mean the whole thing.  Shut it down.  Shut it down tomorrow.  Tell the world that there is a price to be paid by anyone who is in any way connected to this kind of crime.  There will be no more cover ups or hush money.  There will be a much higher standard applied going forward.  And it would be voluntary.  But it can only be driven home with a sledgehammer.  When you are done, stand aside and let them throw the bunch of them, Sandusky, Paterno, McQueary, Schultz, Curley, and anyone else involved, in jail. They each should bear the responsibility of what they have wrought.

UPDATE – 7/13/12

So the University Trustees went out and hired Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan, headed by Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI.  Their role was to come in, shine some lights in corners, ask some questions, and do a bunch of what’s-all-this-ing about the place.  Surely that will make things a bit more clear, right?


The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no “attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.

Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University – President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.  These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities.  They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s vitimes by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.  Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.

There is little left to say at this point.  You can read the whole Freeh report here, if you’ve the stomach for it.

So where do we go next?  I’m still of the opinion Penn State no longer deserves athletic programs.  Yes, you will punish some who weren’t part of this, but as I said above, that’s the only way to be sure we ALL play a part in preventing this from happening again.

I’m beginning to be swayed, though, that perhaps the institution itself should be eradicated.  No more Penn State.  Done.  Won’t happen, of course, but maybe there is some justice in dismantling the institution altogether.  My hesitation there is that, by all accounts, this had nothing to do with the environment in the academic world.  Just the athletic program.  Then again, if the University president was part of the cover up, maybe I’m wrong on that one.

I think it is fair to say, though, that there isn’t much that could be done that would heal the wounds these “men” have inflicted, either by their direct action or their direct inaction.  No fate is harsh enough that we, as a society, could dole out.  The punishment should be less about retribution and more about sending the message that everyone plays a role in protecting our children.

As to Sandusky, McQueary, Curley, Spanier and Schultz, I can only assume Paterno has arranged for a table for six in Hell.



  1. Dwane, you and I have discussed this and kind of agree to disagree on the punishment for the school. I do not advocate the abolishment of the PSU athletic programs, maybe not even the football program at this point. Punishing people that had nothing to do with the scandal (too weak a noun for it but can’t think of another) is like throwing the entire German population in jail after WW2 (an extreme example I know). Penalizing football players that had nothing to do (much less gymnasts, wrestlers, volleyballers) with it is not fair IHMO. Maybe fining PSU for the total amount of profits brought in by athletics and putting it in a trust fund for child abuse victims. I wish I had an answer.

    There is definitely a leadership and HR lesson to be learned from the horrific mistakes made by all those, alive and dead, mentioned in the report and I am sure we will see much written about it but your piece is a great jumping off point.

    • I didn’t say it was fair, John. I don’t know that there is a fair outcome here. But I go back to the idea that anyone involved in athletics, be they coach, player, booster or other, should have an active role in making sure nothing untoward is going on. If you knew that associating yourself with a school meant that you could lose your college career if this kind of activity was found, wouldn’t you make really sure you knew what the culture was like before you signed? Think about the news we hear out of big athletic programs about players and coaches gone wild. If you knew it could cost your kid their future, would you let them take that chance?

      Maybe this is the moment that levels the playing field a bit for smaller or less wealthy schools. The fear of serious retribution, well beyond the previous “death penalty” events, might just make a real difference in amateur sports.

      I’m not naive enough to think it will happen, though, and I respect your respectful disagreement. Respectfully.

  2. If the NCAA is going to come down on CalTech for “lack of institutional control” for letting athletes — following the schools own rules — ‘shop’ for courses for the first 3 weeks of the semester, how can the Penn State situation not be a “lack of institutional control.” On the other hand, Penn State is an example of too much “institutional control” in that the institution prevented a criminal act from being investigated for fear of bringing the institution into a bad light.

    Sad situation all around. Just wait until the civil trials start.

    • There’s no institutional control on what they did, I think. It’s the exact opposite. But you make a good point with CalTech. Look at this punishments doled out for paying players, helping them pass classes (or not go), etc. Compared to Penn, that’s barely a jaywalking citation.

      Let’s hope the NCAA treats them with an appropriate response. And yes, the civil trials will be remarkable.

  3. Being a Pennsylvania guy this story is obviously everywhere you go. Two points I wanted to share. (1) To borrow from Jay Kuhns… no excuses! This was beyond terrible and awful decisions and non-decisions were made. (2) I am not a big college football guy, I like Sunday football much better but always prefer futbol above all (soccer). I will watch some games but am not living and dying by BCS standings and results. That being said, from my understanding by talking heads, I hear this falls outside of the NCAA overview. Not sure why or how, but the NCAA has more rules and twists and turns than many of us will ever know. Because Penn State is a state run and funded school, I believe all athletic decisions need to actually be reached via Harrisburg. Great discussion though.

    • Thanks, Keith. As far as the NCAA rules, here’s an easy way to deal with that:

      “We can’t punish you, but we will no longer sanction your teams or allow other NCAA teams to play against you.

      Enjoy your intramural activities.”

      • Well played sir!

        At the beginning of the reports out of State College, I think I found myself to be more on the sympathetic side of the isle. Then I took a step back and thought about being the father to one of the victims, if that happened to one of my boys, and the reality of the situation really hit home. Zero tolerance. I do not agree with athletics being removed, but heavy annual giving, as in 100% of football funds, going towards victims or associated charities.

  4. I would make the school give all the proceeds from their athletics to the victims and charities which help child abuse victims for the next 100 years. I feel like something needs to be done to help the victims and their families and other children who suffer with the burden of abuse. I think if you shut it down, the issue will be forgotten in a few years. But knowing that every time they play to thousands in a stadium and millions more at home, all that money is going to help the people they spent over a decade hurting would make me feel slightly better.

    Then burn that JoePa statue and send all the rest of those involved in the coverup to jail.

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