Most media covering the story of the Penn State football program sanctions seemed, in news industry parlance, to “bury the lede.” In the initial Associated Press report, it required skimming down to the sixth paragraph to find this:
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people.”
So said Mark Emmert, former University of Washington president who left in 2010 to become executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
A year into his tenure Emmert had on his doorstep the sordid Jerry Sandusky scandal and, in the views of many, the much more pertinent priority, to wit: Never mind the victims; how would the Sandusky spectacle affect what is sacred in America, an honored college-football program personified by a deity worthy of a seven-foot statue?
Coach Joe Paterno died six months prior to Sandusky’s June conviction on 45 of 48 counts. The 900-pound mound of bronze bearing JoePa’s likeness was summarily taken out of the game, so to speak, and hidden away in storage/shame. Paterno, after all, had exhibited years of less-than-admirable behavior by preferring to sustain the fiction of his gridiron prowess rather than tell authorities about his friend/monster.
Many seem to believe that Emmert and the NCAA did the right thing by dealing Penn State everything short of football’s death penalty. An online unscientific “instant poll” by a reputable news organization revealed minutes after Emmert’s announcement that about half of respondents felt the NCAA refs had the correct call. A quarter felt the death penalty was in order. One in five, hand-wringing about bowl-game bans and lost scholarships, said the NCAA had no business even adjudicating the Sandusky scandal.
Some might be unable to countenance the most important aspect of the breaking story: that Penn State must come up with $60 million as a sustaining fund for abuse victims. Many observers no doubt are lamenting the notion that the NCAA also ruled that Penn State’s on-field victories between 1998 and 2011 would have to be rewritten.
To those who think that the Penn State tragedy is nothing but an overblown football story, here’s something worth contemplating: The abuse victims of Sandusky and countless other predators will never be made whole again by jury awards and NCAA financial penalties.
It’s easy to be smug and wag fingers. We could call upon Penn State to melt down the statue-grade brass from its Joe Paterno statue, commanding a buck a pound on the scrap market, and add it to the proceeds to be paid to victims. Fact is, the $60 million fund is little more than an expensive speeding ticket for this deep-pocketed institution, to be paid during the next five years.
In reality, Penn State is not alone in this problem. I can all but guarantee there are more Penn States out there because it’s a culture that valued power, prestige and protection of reputation over the safety of children. Penn State sanctions will work to the extent they raise public awareness and make it costly to cover up pedophilia. But make no mistake: There are other institutions out there with the same problems. We see it every day in representing our clients.
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