Saturday, July 14, 2012

Death Penalty (and maybe even more) to Penn State

This is hardly a novel, or original, sentiment, but let me be about the one-millionth person to suggest (strongly) that the NCAA blow up the Penn State University football program and let the rubble sit for a good long time before picking up the pieces and rebuilding.

This may not be fair to the players who are still there, or the new coach, or to anyone else not directly connected with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but as John F. Kennedy one said, so eloquently and so prophetically, life is unfair.

This is one time that if the university itself doesn't take a stand, then the sport's governing body must. The NCAA hands out penalties for the most foolish of reasons, so if it can't see fit to bring the hammer down on this fiasco, then whatever shred of credibility it has is gone forever.

I should say up front that my high school has two alumni coaching major college sports: Brian Kelley at Notre Dame and Bill O'Brien at Penn State. I should also say I'm a proud alumni of St. John's Prep and was thrilled, both times, when fellow Eagles made it to the top .... even if I don't know either of them personally. Still, O'Brien will land on his feet. He had the audacity to go face-to-face with Tom Brady, after all, so we know he's got the chops. He'll do fine. Penn State would have no choice but to pay him. He won't starve.

This isn't about Bill O'Brien. It's about institutional malfeasance of the most wretched kind. It's about a coverup that makes Watergate look like a white lie by comparison.

Think about this. An assistant coach at one of the most prestigious football universities in the country was found guilty of being a serial child molester. He corrupted the innocence of countless childhoods. None of the children he molested will ever be the same. And when you consider how many victims of that type of abuse ultimately end up doing the same thing, you can safely say he created, by his actions, more criminals.

Sandusky has been dealt with. He will never get out of jail. Ever. Unless it's in a box. And that's as it should be.

I am philosophically opposed to capitol or corporal punishment on the grounds that as a society we should be above that kind of eye-for-an-eye retribution (and all I can say is hope to GOD I never have reason to test that high-minded view). But if I were to ever make an exception, it would be for something like this. My gut tells me that one a week, the guards should let Sandusky loose among the general population and go for coffee.

 Sadly, the problem goes deeper than Sandusky. The FBI report clearly states that the Penn State hierarchy -- from the tippity top on down --  covered all this up. Apparently, its brand ... and its legacy .. meant more than protecting children. Awful. Unconscionable. Evil. All of these people should be thrown in the same cellblock with Sandusky, and should similarly be let loose among the general population for coffee break.

Any reminders of Joe Paterno at Penn State should be destroyed. And this is coming from someone who thought, for years, that Paterno was the anti-sleazy college football coach. Joe Pa does it the right way. Jo Pa has dignity. Jo Pa is a guy we can admire and root for without feeling like we have to take a shower afterward.

Now? There aren't enough showers, and there isn't enough soap or hot water, to wash away the stench. What an awful realization.

That statue of him on campus? Dismantle it. Throw it in the trash. Anything named for him? Change the name. It won't be nearly enough, of course, to wipe out the indelible stain of his neglect in this matter, but at least it'll be a sign by the university that it means business if it seeks to atone for its (in)actions.

Needless to say, anyone connected with this coverup should be fired on the spot and prosecuted to whatever extent the law allows (there's the inconvenience of the statue of limitations in some cases, I suppose).

And then, finally, maybe just as a symbolic ritual, the entire campus should be fumigated.

This is personal with me. I've worked with kids in youth sports. I know how delicate some of them can be. And generally, it's the delicate and timid kids that end up being the targets of predators such as Jerry Sandusky.

My son and wife work with kids in Boy Scouts. I know how seriously they takes their obligations and responsibilities when it comes to their stewardship.

I've had several acquaintances prosecuted for this crime, with two of them convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. I cannot tell you how low my heart sank when I heard about their arrests, or how angry I was when I found out the details of what they'd done. It is the ultimate betrayal ... and not just on a personal level either. Every time someone molests a child, whether it's a priest, youth sports coach, scout leader, camp director, whatever, it calls into question everyone else who seeks to volunteer for such endeavors.

All I can say to those who feel the football program shouldn't suffer because of this is get real. Maybe if college football wasn't such a humongous big business to begin with, Jerry Sandusky would have been thrown out of Penn State years ago. If there wasn't such a legacy ... or such a "brand," think of how many kids would have been spared this horrific experience.

Shut it down. Open up the windows. Let the fresh air -- not to mention a good professional fumigation -- blow away the stench that will otherwise pollute this campus as long as there's an active program.

And maybe, someday, in the far future, they can try again.

Meanwhile, it really behooves the NCAA to reassess, on every level, the emphasis it puts on college sports. If there's a better example of the tail wagging the dog, I don't know what it is.

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