It is mystifying that after hearing the damning findings of the Freeh Report, there are still those who believe that the very culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to rape boys should play a key role in the Penn State’s post-scandal “healing.”
Big-time football is not the answer to the university’s problems. In fact, allowing PSU to continue the same approach to the sport shows that the school has learned nothing from Sandusky’s disgusting actions and the subsequent cover-up by top leadership. By continuing to use football as the primary marketing tool for the school, Penn State is perpetuating the same culture that allowed Messrs. Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno to worry more about “bad publicity” than the welfare of children.
If the Penn State Board of Trustees has any collective character and balls it will vote to de-emphasize football when it meets this week in Scranton. It’s time to take it down a notch to the Ivy League level, so that the very thing that tarnished the school’s image can no longer be the primary source of Penn State pride. That way, the school will be able to focus on its mission as an educational institution, rather than a life-support system for a football program that served its own needs ahead of those of innocent victims of a monster’s heinous crimes.
The very cancer that led to the school’s unwillingness to do the right thing will be on full display September 1st when the Nittany Lions charge onto the Beaver Stadium turf to take on Ohio. More than 100,000 fans will cheer, and many will heave a sigh, thinking that a new season will allow the school to begin to “move on” after the outrageous incident. The problem is, that by continuing to identify itself so closely—and in some cases completely—with the football program, the university is perpetuating the same climate that fostered the refusal to confront Sandusky. I’m not saying that there is anyone within the Penn State community remotely capable of the abominations committed by the former coach. What I do maintain is that the continued desire to present the university through a program that was self-serving enough to ignore the rape of innocents is no way for Penn State to demonstrate its remorse and commitment to change.
If the school truly wants to make sure that nothing like Sandusky’s actions can ever happen again, it must take over the athletic department on the highest level and run it—and particularly the football program—with the same level of oversight and authority that it administers the rest of the university. It’s impossible to believe that a grotesque figure like Sandusky could have molested children for 14 years in the English Department or the School of Education. He would have been shut down at the first hint of impropriety.
Counting on the NCAA to provide the necessary discipline for the football program is a bad idea, because it’s unlikely the organization will be able to make a sufficient case for a lack of institutional control. (If the AD and head coach’s allowing an assistant to rape boys doesn’t count as a “lack of institutional control,” then what does?) That means the Board of Trustees must take this on itself, and if the Freeh Report hasn’t made a significant enough impression to serve as a catalyst for real action, then Penn State can’t ever be considered completely “healed.” It’s one thing to institute a pile of procedures and backside-covering protocols to prevent future trouble and another to go to the direct root of the problem. Sandusky was allowed to prey on children by a school that didn’t want to compromise its identity, which was built largely on the success of a football team.
Of course, the runaway influence of collegiate sports is hardly just a Penn State problem. Throughout the country, big-time programs (and some smaller-time teams, too) award too much influence and compensation to coaches who produce winning teams, because that success fuels admissions, donations and positive perception. This has been going on for decades, but the recent sophistication of the tools used to maximize the impact of such programs has allowed for an even greater undue influence within the university community. At many schools, collegiate athletics are no long adjunct activities designed to enhance students’ experiences. They are the main source of identity. Penn State has a chance to change that. By de-emphasizing the program, it will signal a realization that the university’s huge reliance on the football team and fear of interrupting its prosperity—and therefore dimming its influence—was the primary reason Sandusky was allowed to continue his terrible deeds.
Cancel the 2012 season. Take two years off to come up with a course of action that allows for play at the I-AA level. Give the scholarship players the opportunity to transfer right away. And if you feel bad for them, feel worse for the young men whose lives were ruined and childhoods stolen by Jerry Sandusky and the men who enabled him to rape and abuse for 14 years.
It’s up to you, Board members. Do you have the guts to do what’s right?