What Did The NCAA's Punishment of Penn State Solve?

Mark Emmert, attempting to legislate human decency.

There's no doubt that Mark Emmert and the NCAA came down as hard on Penn State's program as everyone expected. Emmert decided to use this case as a means to create a pulpit from where he could preach the NCAA's new morality. He wanted so desperately to show the world he brought newfound piety to the NCAA that he threw the proverbial book at the folks up in Happy Valley. Now, this is not to say that Penn State didn't deserve to be punished. Penn State decided to give in once the Freeh report was released, due to the damning nature of its contents, and their general desires to make piece with their governing body and ally schools. Penn State and the NCAA made a deal that allowed Emmert to offer them a settlement. Putting the political nature aside the question remains: how does this punishment help or solve anything?

It's difficult enough to decipher whether the NCAA even punish the correct entity. In some ways, it did. The $60 million dollar fine levied to be given to charities supporting victims of sexual abuse is admirable and a fair punishment. However, it does not seem quite enough to levy a fine against an institution that hid Jerry Sandusky's heinous criminal activity and depravity for ten years.

Joe Paterno's legacy is also shattered by the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions. The wins he earned were entirely vacated from 1998-2011, and his statue was removed. He is no longer viewed as a demigod; he is now the legendary coach who allowed sexual abuse of young boys to happen on his watch and then proceeded to actively cover the abuse up, then later plead ignorance.

However, it does miss the targets that everyone really wanted to see punished severely. The fans and players are being punished only for existing at PSU. Penn State's current players, recruits, and fans could not possibly have known the monster in their midst. The only side of Jerry Sandusky they knew was the former defensive coordinator who headed up the Second Mile. They could not have known that Sandusky was using their talents on the field and their money, respectively, to gain access to young boys.

But what did the NCAA actually accomplish with these punishments? The abused men, the TRUE victims of Jerry Sandusky and the cover-up at Penn State, may not get a whole lot of closure from Penn State's football program having a nuclear bomb dropped on it. The leaders at Penn State, the most powerful head coach any school had seen up to this point, and the institution of Penn State itself completely failed them for nearly twenty years. How can the NCAA legislate that? How can the NCAA, a governing body of amateur athletics, take Penn State to jail? Unfortunately, the disgusting cover-up perpetrated by the highest authorities at Penn State can't be legislated with a five-year bowl ban.

The answer, of course, is that this punishment, for the victims, accomplishes nothing at all. It doesn't help or solve a damn thing. It doesn't bring back the victims' innocence and it won't take away the nightmares. This punishment is for allowing a monstrous human being to run loose on Penn State's campus, but it reaches the wrong people. It reaches the fans and players instead of the institution. Emmert used the word "culture" in his speech about a dozen times, but really what he meant to say was "the worst and most frightening parts of human nature". Despite the harshness of the punishment for the football program, it still feels wrong. It is simultaneously overly harsh for fans and player unknowingly corrupted by their institution and woefully inadequate for the crimes perpetrated against Sandusky's victims'.

Sadly, the final thought I have for the Penn State case is that there is no correct answer or correct punishment that the NCAA could hand out. The football program benefited from the cover-up of child abuse from both a PR and financial earning standpoint, and may have needed to be taught a lesson. It just feels wrong knowing that the NCAA, an entity based on a hypocritical and flawed idea of "amateur athletics" that bring in billions of dollars each year, can stand on its own self-righteous feet and demand that we pay attention to how harshly they punished a football program that was ready to roll over and die anyway.

The men who orchestrated the cover-up and the abuse are either dead or going to prison for a long, long time. Penn State's football program has been burned to the ground. The institution has been shamed. And somehow, it all still feels hollow. The punishment by the NCAA will only shut up the media and fans by destroying and forcibly rebuilding the football program. It won't quiet the memories in the victims' heads.

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