Penn State Sanctions: Shamefully Not Enough

In the spirit of full disclosure I graduated from SMU with 2 undergraduate and 1 graduate degree.  I have been a lifelong fan of SMU and have always thought that they were the victim of not only their own actions and arrogance but of jealousy by other football powers and the NCAA’s selective enforcement of recruiting rules.

Since SMU became the only school to be have an entire sport suspended and has struggled throughout the last 25 years, and with the breakup of the SWC, my interest in college sports has dropped tremendously and I now consider myself a casual fan. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, I had believed there was no chance Penn State would be given the death penalty for the Institution’s role in the Sandusky molestation case. So I am somewhat surprised by my reactions to the announcement by the NCAA.  In the hours after first hearing the sanctions I thought about them and tuned in to much of the media coverage.  The more I thought and listened the angrier I became that the NCAA did not go further, and that some in the media thought the  actions were justified, or even too harsh,  given the impact the death penalty would have had upon those not involved in the actual molestations or cover-up. I offered some posts on facebook, and some of the same thoughts will appear again.

Some coaches and members of the media are saying that the penalties received by PSU are actually tougher than having the program suspended.  As an alumnus who graduated from SMU 4 years before the death penalty, and have followed SMU in its two plus decade struggle to return to any sort of football respectability, I and all other SMU alumni who follow athletics know better than all the pundits the devastating impact of the death penalty on a program.  The entire athletic program has failed to come within miles of even imagining what it was prior to the penalty. Proof of the devastating impact of a suspension of a football program is the comparison between SMU and TCU.  About the same time SMU was given the death penalty, TCU was given what some considered to be a harsher sentence, with severe loss of scholarships and multiyear bowl and TV bans. TCU is now considered a strong second tier football power and is a member of the Big 12. SMU has been struggling to achieve winning records in lower tier conferences.  While some of the differences can also be attributed to personnel mistakes and decisions SMU made, (SMU instituted the toughest athletic recruiting and admission standards of any Div. 1 school immediately following the sanctions and still has some of the most difficult recruiting and athletic admission policies in the NCAA,) it seems the effects of the penalties SMU received were significantly greater than those TCU and PSU received.   If the NCAA continues to believe the death penalty is too severe as evidenced by the fact that it has failed to administer it even though several schools that have been eligible over the last 2 decades, and some for actions I consider much worse than SMU’s, why has it not removed it as a punishment option?  By keeping it as an option, the NCAA shows a desire to have something available should a program commit, in its judgment, truly egregious acts.

The Louis Freeh investigation into the Penn State scandal discovered that coach Joe Paterno and other top officials in the institution knew or had tremendous reason to believe Sandusky was sexually abusing children much earlier than previously thought.  The University was therefore complicit in the molestation of dozens of boys because it not only failed to report the activity but assisted Sandusky in his criminal action by continuing to allow him access and use of its facilities where the abuse continued to take place. If being an accessory before the fact to the sexual abuse of dozens of children is not reason enough for the use of the death penalty, what is? Yes it would be difficult for the community were Penn State not to have a football program for a year or two, but this difficulty pales in comparison to the difficulties many if not most of these children will have for perhaps the rest of their lives. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, (RAINN) some of the effects victims of childhood sexual abuse have as adults include: low self-esteem, self-hatred, guilt/shame, sleep disorders, inability to trust others, revictimization (repeatedly entering into abusive relationships as adults), flashbacks, sexuality/intimacy issues (inability to have healthy sexual and or intimate relationships), PTSD, depression, and anger. In an attempt to cope with these issues, adult survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, and self-injurious behavior. These are the just the effects that are measurable.  What is not is the overall loss of their childhood.

Former Heisman Trophy winner and current ESPN analyst Desmond Howard commented on weighing the victims of this abuse, the children and the PSU athletes.  While death penalty sanctions, as well as those the NCAA handed down, would impact the playing careers of the athletes, they would have had the choice of staying at PSU or transferring to other programs without having to sit out a year as is usually the case. The children whose childhoods were robbed, and who face the above life challenges and dangers had no choice. They could not leave and they were not protected.  Yes Jerry Sandusky is in prison, yes there will be civil damages paid to the children and their families by the University, but, by the NCAA saying that their suffering at the hands of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University did not warrant the University to suffer the supreme penalty is nothing short of a revictimization, and yet another entity demonstrating that their welfare is secondary to that of the University that did nothing to protect them.

About revkennydickson

I am a United Methodist minister and my professional passion is connecting issues of life and faith to film and other artforms. I am also interested in autism awareness and ministry and special needs. I am married to Michelle and have two children.
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