When All the Victories Died in Sorrow

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The latest ruling on Penn State got me agitated the other day when someone mentioned the recent court case. The NCAA was sued for fining the university $60 million and taking away all of Coach Joe Paterno’s football wins. And in the interest of retaining whatever controlling authority it still thinks it has left, the intimidated NCAA decided to restore Paterno’s wins in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal on his watch. Penn State also no longer has to pay the fine to the NCAA and can spend it on child abuse programs in the state.

Nothing more ignorant has ever happened in major college sports.

I’m not a sports fan. I don’t live and die with the performances of athletes. I love to play sports, not watch. They do offer a nice diversion with family and friends who have an emotional investment in outcomes, which I’ve never been able to understand or replicate. But the power of rule-making authorities like the NCAA and AAU are even more baffling.

First, unless you are a Penn State alum and care about football more than ruined lives of children, we all ought to be able to agree that Joe Paterno does not deserve a pardon from history. He either knew, or ought to have known, that his child-molesting defensive coordinator was evil after the time the first parent called in 1998 to complain the coach had showered with her ten-year old son. What type of man does not investigate such a claim? There were even more clues in the ensuing years that Paterno never bothered to examine. By every measure, Penn State’s coach was a rank coward, more concerned about his football team and his university than the welfare of helpless children. When it came time to be an actual man and live up to the sports homilies he preached to his players, Paterno, instead, averted his eyes from a horrid crime.

Jerry Sandusky
Jerry Sandusky

Pennsylvania’s state senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and its Treasurer Rob McCord fit into the same soulless category as the people who have already turned their backs on Sandusky’s victims for the sake of a goddamned game. They sued the NCAA and claimed in court that the overseers of collegiate sports had overstepped their rule-making authority and did not have the power to sanction PSU or to rob Paterno of his wins. The NCAA, lacking a sense of propriety and ethical compass of right and wrong, as much as Corman and McCord, gave in and reinstated Paterno’s victories as coach.

We can now look forward to the winningest major college football coach in history being a man who turned his head away from child abuse because he didn’t want anything to interrupt the glories of his football team. I don’t care what anyone says about Paterno’s comportment and principles as a coach and a man and a mentor to the players who stepped on his field. All of those achievements are without relevance when colored by the evil Paterno ignored. And there is no sustainable argument that the coach was unaware of Sandusky’s behavior. Read even the slightest amount of coverage of the case. Hell, the janitors in the locker room knew.

The greater shame in this case, though, may belong to the NCAA. The institution had a chance to acquire a touch of relevancy and send a message about the real purpose of collegiate sports. Instead, they chose the familiar course and protected the money. Take care of the cash flow to take care of your power. Collegiate sports might want to consider ignoring the NCAA. Their authority is bestowed upon them by the consent of the institutions governed and the rules they enforce are as out of touch as their decision to forgive Penn State.

College athletes earn billions for America’s universities and they can’t even accept a meal from a coach, or even a ride to an off campus practice. The NCAA banned a tradition of rowing teams betting each other their racing jerseys because it was deemed gambling, and they once sanctioned a coach for giving her athletes chocolate milk after practice because it was a better drink for recovery than even Gatorade. Of course, Gatorade is a big NCAA sponsor but I’m sure that had nothing to do with the rationale.

The NCAA is irrelevant and it has proved it yet again with the Penn State compromise. But maybe that decision also proves that when it comes to sports and money, we are simply a nation and a culture without any sense of shame.

Regardless, it is long past time to give the NCAA the death penalty.