Friday, July 20, 2012

Death Row in Happy Valley

By Ernesto Alvarado

"It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral."

- Saul Alinsky 

The phrase "this is bigger than football" has been plastered all over the news since the scandal at Penn State tore apart the once impeccable reputation of the storied football program and university officials. It's been called the worst scandal and college sports and has tested the loyalty of Nittany Lions across the nation. Yet, for all the talk of it being larger than a sports programs, it doesn't escape me that all the focus is constantly turned on sporting sanctions for a criminal problem. The program should be put to death, the statue of Joe Paterno needs to be taken down and his records removed from the books are solutions that are screamed out by pundits across the if taking a trophy or canceling a program will end the suffering of the victims.

The hypocrisy of critics that never mention the victims or ways to help them through their recovery process infuriates many PSU fans who never even heard of Sandusky until this scandal broke. Penn State has undergone an extensive self-reflection and moves to change the image of the entire university which included creating several events on campus to raise money as well as awareness for child abuse. I apologize for the Nittany Nation for not worrying about a statue of a dead coach, we're too busy figuring out ways to ensure something like this will never happen again and that child abuse will be combated across the nation.

Penn State's glistening clean-sheet of sanctions does not have a smudge on it, rather, the sheet has been torn to shreds, lit on fire then buried in a grave next to the hole that is being prepared for the football program. The Freeh report cites that 4 of the top university officials at the university played pivotal roles in allowing convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky to escape jail and continue his evil deeds around campus. A disheartening but a much needed blast of reality for the proud Nittany nation that has reeled from the devastating revelations of the most heinous acts committed by their once revered football institution. Apart from the most die-hard JoPa fan, it's becoming harder to stand behind the iconic coach. (Even though most journalists admittedly haven't read the entire report and have left some key details out that could question the findings.)

Calls for the death penalty (a suspension of a sports team for at least 1 full year) have become deafening. The program has become a lightening rod for all that is wrong with collegiate sports and the higher education institutions that pour funding into them. Any defense for the football team is quickly written off as a lack of understanding and sympathy for those victims of Sandusky that may never find the closure they need to move past the horrible acts this man committed. Yet, while Stephen A. Smith and other ESPN talking heads demand the lethal injection by the NCAA, my only question is...what will that resolve?

Nick Saban recently reiterated the idea that there are other ways of turning this horrible situation into one that will help in any way possible. Quite possibly the best idea to come out in respect to the scandal has come from Alabama when he mentioned a tax format on all PSU tickets and merchandise that would go to child abuse organizations. A far more effective and useful way of approaching the discipline of PSU football than the recommended statue removal/death penalty.

My freshman year, I attended a small college in the South-Atlantic region on a soccer scholarship. We were a powerhouse in Division II and never fell out of the Top 10 teams in the country. Players from across the world came to pay their dues in hopes of a transfer to an NCAA DI program and their approach to the program demonstrated it. The program had been warned about missing money from the various fundraising events we were a part of and things came soon after I decided to leave: thousands of dollars came up missing and players remained quiet on the culprits. The program's coach (a career coach with a pristine record and reputation) was dismissed and the program was shut down for a year by the university's administration. Some transferred, some went back to their countries and the program was marred by this death penalty. This "death penalty" was warranted because of the role student-athletes played and the overall culture of the program fostered by a lack of punishment following the previous sanctions. The program needed an immediate overhaul and it punished those culpable immediately.

Will a death penalty for a group of players that aren't old enough to remember Sandusky prowling the sidelines teach Penn State a lesson?

The dedication that it takes to arrive at a DI level is no easy task and now these student-athletes are forced to bite the bullet for a crime they had no role in? Transferring is no easy task either: Penn State's educational offering is something many powerhouse football teams can't offer and most elite teams have their rosters unofficially established. A death penalty will serve not to sanction a university, but harm a group of its finest students. A death penalty is a sports punishment for a crime outside the realm of sports and by suspending a program that will inherently bring awareness to such an important cause, you are actually hurting the cause to prevent something like this to occur again.

Will a death penalty bring closure to the victims?

 Maybe...has anyone asked? In all reality it is difficult to understand how a suspension of a year will bring permanent closure to a traumatic experience that in all likely-hood will never fully heal. The university should find ways to directly help the victims and personalize their efforts of helping rather than shutting down a program that, apart from Paterno's willful ignorance, has no idea or participation in these events. This isn't about football, this is about the victims; so shouldn't the efforts to set things right be aimed towards their needs? The civil suits that will surely be levied against Penn State will also require a way to pay for the potentially millions of dollars that will be lost. In a pragmatic sense, it might actually be better for the victims to maintain the program in order to receive their rightful legal compensation.

Will a death penalty improve the internal controls at Penn State?

Penn State University fired its coach of nearly 4 decades and removed the top 2 officials that were implicated in the initial investigation BEFORE any outside body levied sanctions on them. The Board of Trustees have been on a tour to explain their decisions to alumni and the university HIRED Freeh to create the independent report. Contrary to the picture painted, Penn State HAS institutional controls and the failures of 4 men are not the common standard for an institution that takes such pride in the motto "success with honor". In all honesty, the university will likely levy punishments that are more severe than any NCAA sanctions. Penn State is not a football crazed university that puts its academic or moral integrity to the side for the sake of a few bowl games. To say that the media's stereotyping of Penn Staters as caring for their football team at all cost is an understatement.

What precedence does this create for the NCAA?

The governing body of athletic teams in college governs competitive advantages and lack of institutional controls. Penn State University has gained no advantage in their athletic programs through the acts of a few men covering up one of the biggest scandals in collegiate history. There are no players implicated in this scandal so student-athletes are a non-factor, the coach in question is dead and the other is sitting in jail for the rest of his disgraced life, and the other 2 officials are awaiting trial. Penn State University has already opened investigations and are looking to impose their own sanctions on the program so where does the NCAA play into effect? This scandal does have a facet that incorporates sports but this is NOT about sports, it's much bigger than that and it should be judged by an appropriate governing body. The guilty parties in this case are facing criminal charges, not NCAA sanctions.

The death penalty is an emotional response to the report that exposed the false halo of the last saint the Penn State faithful prayed was not implicated. I am not opposed or in favor of the death penalty but the reason for its imposition would not match its desired results (if any). People in State College live off of the football season, the local economy thrives from the income that the program brings to it, the academic institution that has changed the world will suffer considerable side-effects and unknown to those outside Happy Valley, the continued presence of football isn't solely for entertainment but for the survival of the community that needs healing the most.

The Penn State football team ultimately faces more than 1 judge and executioner and most signs point towards the electric chair. It is hard to see NCAA going against the general sentiment of the need for a death penalty (even with misguided comparisons to SMU), Penn State itself has clearly acted with little regard for the football team's position and will most likely hand down severe sanctions if the NCAA doesn't. The Department of Education can also use the Clery Act to shut down funding for PSU football due to their violation of the rule that states it must report any crime committed or purported to be committed on campus. Scholarship reductions and bowl bans seem a more logical road in respect to sanctions but in a world where Paterno shields a sex offender and Penn State Football faces the death penalty...reason is lost in a sea of ESPN's 24 hour coverage (wonder why Syracuse didn't get the same handling) and continued stigmatization of Penn State alumni.

So Penn Staters struggle, with anger, with confusion, with sadness, with shame, with pride, drowning in emotions that alumni never thought would be connected to Dear Old State. Rage that a few men have dragged a world renowned institution to the depths of a scandal like the sporting world has never seen. Sadness for the victims of these men and guilt that our own leadership allowed these atrocities to happen on our campus. Angels have become but mere angles of arguments and contradictions.

The funny (or sad) thing about this call for the death penalty is that,

Penn State's Football program as we know it is already dead.

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