NCAA to the Taxpayers of Pennsylvania: Drop Dead

So the NCAA has now imposed sanctions on the Penn State athletic program for its many failures, including a $60 million fine and various other restrctions on their athletic program (designed, as the NCAA itself proudly notes, to be “punitive”).  From the NCAA announcement:

“The NCAA imposes a $60 million fine, equivalent to the approximate average of one year’s gross revenues from the Penn State football program, to be paid over a five-year period beginning in 2012 into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse. The minimum annual payment will be $12 million until the $60 million is paid.  The proceeds of this fine may not be used to fund programs at the University. No current sponsored athletic team may be reduced or eliminated in order to fund this fine.”

So let me get this straight:  The NCAA is ordering the taxpayers of Pennsylvania, because of the misdeeds of their agents, to set up an endowment program for preventing child sexual abuse and fund it to the tune of sixty million dollars??  And oh, by the way, taxpayers of Pennsylvania:  you can take it out of lab space, computers, and teaching salaries, but YOU MAY NOT PAY THIS FINE BY REDUCING CURRENT SPENDING ON  ATHLETICS!

This would be hilarious, except it is pathetic, and it has real consequences.  I happen to teach at a (different) public institution in Pennsylvania, and I can tell you this:  $60 million is a decent-sized chunk of a higher education budget that is under severe strain these days, with the Governor having recently proposed a 30% cut in all higher ed funding because, as he put it, “we simply don’t have the money.”  This is real money we’re talking about, and maybe Penn State needs a 60 million dollar fund for fighting child sex abuse and maybe that money could better be spent elsewhere at the University — what in God’s name gives the NCAA the right to determine that?

And that it is the NCAA imposing these sanctions takes it from the laughable to the grotesque (and probably unlawful).  There are better models out there in the world of Big Sport of organizations built on corruption, greed, and mendacity — I think of the IOC, for instance (which just today, coincidentally, decided that they couldn’t spare 60 seconds of the Opening Ceremonies for a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes killed in Munich forty years ago), and FIFA — but there aren’t many of them.  If Governor Corbett actually gives a damn about higher eduction, he should give this sanctions order all the respect it deserves, and tell the NCAA, on behalf of the citizens and taxpayers of Pennsylvania,  to go to hell.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here.  I want to talk about Paterno.  In an article in Monday’s NY Times discussing the sanctions, the Times noted that the Freeh Report had “detailed Paterno’s involvement in covering up child sex abuse accusations against Sandusky for more than a decade.”  This seems to be the general conclusion — that whatever doubts one might have had before about Paterno‘s role in this horrorshow, the Freeh Report put them to rest.

I spent last weekend reading the Freeh Report, and that’s not what it looks like to me.  What it looks like to me is:

1. Paterno was a god — nobody could do anything, at Penn State, without his permission/approval.

2.  So everyone’s waiting for Joe — but on this one, Joe is waiting for them.  He doesn’t want to know anything about it — hands in his ears.

There’s virtually nothing in the Freeh Report from Paterno himself during the critical period (98-2002, during which time there were 2 separate investigations into Sandusky’s conduct, one by the DA, one by PSU counsel).  Some hearsay about how “we told Joe this,” or “Joe knew that,” but really nothing from Paterno (as opposed to the mountain of hard evidence, mostly from emails, that Curley (Athletic Director) and Schultz (Senior VP) and Spanier (President) were involved in closely monitoring the situation and aware of the progress of the investigations).

Now, many people will say:  that’s precisely what he did wrong.  He should have done more — asked questions, made phone calls, banned Sandusky from the locker room, gotten him fired, . . .  Hands in the ears isn’t good enough, certainly not in the face of something as horrible as this.  Boys were injured, terribly, because Paterno did nothing – if it’s not evil itself, it’s a kind of complicity with evil.

After having actually read through the Report, I’m not so sure about that.  As a friend of mine put it:

Allegations of sexual misconduct with children are extremely serious and should be handled by the appropriate professionals.  The football coach is not the appropriate professional and should not be actively involved–even if people think he is God.  Especially if people think he is God.  How can there be a fair and objective investigation if God is butting in?

It’s worth thinking about.  Would we really want Paterno to have anything to do with the investigations?  He should’ve called the DA? “This is Joe Paterno – I’d like an update on the Sandusky investigation”?

I’m sure that Paterno had many motives for sticking his hands in his ears on this one – some of them being dis-honorable.  Sandusky’s a pal – I don’t want hear this horrible stuff about him.  It’s just horsing around, I’m sure – just like the priests.  Etc.

But what was going on in Paterno’s mind is unknowable – the question is: what did he do, or not do, and was that decision morally defensible or not.  I’m not so sure he didn’t do (not do) just want he should have (not) done.  There were two investigations (conducted by people who should have uncovered Sandusky’s crimes, but didn’t) – one of which (2002) Paterno himself initiated by contacting University officials.  It is not unreasonable or morally indefensible to say:  the football coach’s role, at that point, is over. Perhaps he even did the right thing.

And did Penn State really need to bring in the jackhammers and physically remove the statue of Paterno they had so ceremoniously put up just a few years ago outside the stadium?  It has the ring of sanctimony to me – there’s nothing like an opportunity to be holier-than-thou to get people all worked up.

Update:  Readers interested in the Paterno questions might find this particularly lucid analysis of the Freeh Report illuminating.