There are those who argue the penalties handed down by the NCAA against Penn State’s football program are too harsh, with some saying the NCAA has no legitimate reason to judge a “non football” scandal.
But the NCAA needed to send an unequivocal message that no university can allow football to take precedence over the safety of innocent children. If anything, the NCAA can be criticized for not handing down the so-called “death penalty” against Penn State.
Still, the penalties are severe: a $60 million fine, a ban from bowl games for four years, no revenue sharing from Big Ten conference bowl games, and a loss of scholarships. And all of Penn State’s victories for the past 13 years will be vacated, meaning late coach Joe Paterno will no longer be recognized as the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach.
The sanctions came a day after one of the most visible signs of Paterno on campus — a statue of the coach — was removed by school officials.
Some students were critical of removing the statue, one saying, “It accomplishes nothing.”
To the contrary, the removal of the statue and the NCAA penalties signify that no matter the success in sports, turning a blind eye to child sexual abuse cannot be abided.
In his investigative report, former FBI Director Louis Freeh noted that Paterno and top Penn State officials completely abdicated their responsibility to the football program and the university by enabling child sex abuse by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky: “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
The real issue now is not whether the sanctions against Penn State were exactly the right ones. Instead, we should ask whether universities and colleges will finally realize that the “sports first” mentality is harmful to their mission of educating and enriching students.
And we should ask, as fans, whether we will continue to blindly support big-time sports programs that focus only on winning and maintaining a reputation — no matter who else is harmed.