Joe Paterno

Penn State Scandal: Death penalty would not have been punishment enough

We here at Bay Area Sports Guy have opted to stay quiet when it comes to the Penn State scandal. After all, this is a Bay Area sports website, and Happy Valley, PA isn’t exactly the East Bay.

Or maybe it’s just that a story as ugly as the one that Jerry Sandusky laid out for us to write is simply too ugly.

Too ugly to exert my brain power on.

Too ugly for me to spend my mornings writing about it.

I’m in the business of writing sports because I enjoy doing it. That isn’t to say that everything I write is happy-go-lucky. Professional sports, as in life, are beautiful because the bad contrasts the good. The Giants’ World Series win felt better because of the ’89 and ’02 World Series losses. The 49ers’ latest success was made all the better by the nine years of losing that preceded it. Perhaps that’s why the Penn St. story isn’t a sports story at all – there is no good that will follow this tragedy and make it worth while. Maybe that’s why, until now, I have chosen not to write on it.

Today, the NCAA handed down its punishment to PSU’s football program. The school will face a four-year bowl ban, a $60M dollar fine, 10 initial scholarship losses and 20 a year for the next four years, a vacation of all wins from 1998 to 2011 and a five year probationary period.

The four year bowl ban essentially means that the football team will be playing for nothing until the next Summer Olympics. Those of you familiar with the Reggie Bush/USC scandal know how it works. The $60M that the school is paying will go to an endowment for charitable programs that serves the victims of sexual abuse. The restriction on the number of scholarships will further hurt the teams ability to recruit the nations top players (as if it wasn’t an uphill battle already; I wouldn’t let my son become a Nittany Lion). The wins vacated between 1998-2011 is a meaningless strike on Joe Paterno’s legacy post-mortem – that is, what’s left of his legacy. The 5-year probationary period is to ensure that the school will keep it’s nose clean in the future, which of course it will.

This has already started into a seething caldron of debate, on the twittersphere and elsewhere, about the amount or rather lack thereof ferocity in which the NCAA punished Penn State. People will call them soft and nonsensical. They will harken back to Southern Methodist University and their death penalty punishment for paying players in the 70’s and 80’s. They will say that if that punishment was two sizes to large for SMU’s crime, then this penalty is two sizes to small, and will most certainly shrink in the washer.

I think that somewhere in the midst of this user-interactive media society that we live, we’re missing the point.

Perhaps our ability to read and react, to have our voices heard, gives us a nasty case of tunnel vision. We have no time to ponder how a situation like this is simply too big for the NCAA’s jurisdiction. It is too big for the court of public opinion. Maybe it’s even too big for the United States court system.

Giving a school the death penalty is the highest form of punishment that an athletics program can receive, and yet it’s fitting a round peg into a square hole. It unfairly punishes the athletes currently playing for the program now, and those who want to play for it in the future. Yet at the same time,it doesn’t seem to fully repent the school for its evils.

Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to several lifetimes worth of prison time and yet his punishment still doesn’t fit his monstrous crimes.

Paterno, who seemingly could only survive weeks of scrutiny following the exposure of his unforgivable indifference, may have been the most successful in escaping judgement — in the human realm, anyway.

The only hope now is that some higher kind of court exists–call it a karmic court, for lack of a better term. I say that because Joe Paterno’s tarnished legacy will never be enough to repent for his sins (and you’d have to agree, religious or not, every aspect of this scandal is worthy of the “sin” label). Nor will the time Sandusky spends in prison or any kind of punishment the NCAA could slap on Penn State.

All these condemnations are meaningless after the fact. My fingers are crossed that the ones responsible for this face a judge more powerful than the ones we employ on earth. Because evil like the kind that was allowed to thrive and endure at Penn State is simply too large for realm of human punishment.

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