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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fringeville Edition #75, July 22 2012

To most of America, Penn State is a football program gone very, very, very bad.

The wreckage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the coddling of a child molester by the most powerful people at the University is a stinking sewer of a scandal not likely to be matched again in our lifetimes.

But to folks like me, Penn State football was far more than just a game. It was emblematic of the right way to do things. It was proof that you didn't have to cheat to win. It meant that excellence could be achieved both on the football field and in the classroom.

And the man who made that all possible was Joseph Vincent Paterno. We stuck by him in the good years and the bad, because this was Joe and he was special. He was different. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson once called him "Saint Joe," and went on to say, "...everyone respects Joe's image. No one would dare say anything about it." (From the January 2, 1987 Gainesville Sun)

But all of it ...the program, Paterno's legacy, the university's reputation and integrity ...was built on quicksand.

I took a cautious stance when the scandal first broke. I wanted to see how the process played out before passing judgement on Paterno and the university. There was never a question in my mind that Sandusky was a monster. I hoped he was the only one. He wasn't. 

This is a very difficult post for me to write. This post signifies the acceptance on my part that the football coach I admired so much protected a great monster and became one himself.

So what happens now?

There are calls for the NCAA to impose the "death penalty" for football at Penn State. I think that will likely happen (even though it may not be covered by NCAA bylaws) unless Penn State imposes self-penalties so severe that it stays the executioner.

I would prefer the latter over the former.

There is a public thirst for vengeance right now, and I understand why. Children were abused by a serial pedophile. It doesn't get worse than that.

But the death penalty so many clamor for would punish an entire region of the state. As an article on Penn Live points out, it would be a "nuclear winter" for central Pennsylvania. Indeed the article states that Penn State football has an impact of more than $165 million dollars on Pennsylvania's economy.

The "death penalty" would mean Jerry Sandusky and the lesser monsters who enabled him would add regional economic destruction to the damage tally for this scandal.

How many more lives will the monsters be allowed to destroy?

If Penn State doesn't take drastic action and throw themselves on the mercy of the NCAA, the answer is too many lives to count. We are in some manner of economic depression. Crush the economy in central Pennsylvania, and it won't recover for years. It may never fully recover at all.

Killing Penn State's program would undoubtedly hurt the Big Ten conference, as well, extending the damage of these monsters to other parts of the country.

There are many things Penn State can do on its own to possibly ward off the death penalty. Here are just a few ideas:

1)  Take down the Paterno statue. Yesterday, if not sooner. While some would call that merely a symbolic gesture, leaving it up could well signal that Penn State isn't sincere about changing a culture that allowed such a monstrous evil to thrive on campus.

2)  Self-limit by half the athletic scholarships for the football program. According to the Freeh report, the football program's staff was not trained in Clery Act compliance and most "...had never heard of the Clery Act." (The Act requires institutions that participate in federal financial aid programs to report crimes that occur on or near their campuses).

3)  A self-ban on bowls and any championship consideration for a number of seasons.

4)  A significant chunk of ticket sales ...a painfully significant chunk ...should be dedicated to victims of sexual abuse for at least five years.

5)  Anyone on the Board of Trustees when the abuse happened needs to go, kicking and screaming if necessary. Phase them out over the course of a year or so if there are concerns about the institution's stability should all go at once ...but they all need to leave. They may not have known what was going on, but they were part of the culture and that culture needs to be excised completely.

That's just a start. The football program would be severely punished without damaging the region's economy as severely as the aptly named "death penalty." (There would still be economic pain. Penn State football might not be competive for a decade or more, and there would be a dropoff in attendance due to the scandal itself and, later, because the teams fielded would likely stink. But I could care less about that aspect. I just don't think the monsters who destroyed children should be allowed to destroy any other lives.)

And for the sake of decency, Penn State should give new Coach Bill O'Brien the opportunity to leave without financial penalty. (I frankly would be surprised if he's not looking for an exit door right now.)

Will I watch Penn State football going forward? I don't know. For now, I'm closing the book on that chapter of my life. Whether I attend or watch games someday in the future depends on what the university does in the weeks ahead.

But if I do watch, it will never be the same. A man I greatly admired looked the other way and kids were damaged. Lives were destroyed and there is likely more damage to come. 

The Penn State I thought I knew was a mirage. I'd rather play with my grandson on a Saturday afternoon than chase mirages. And I'll keep him close and have a wary eye because, you see, monsters walk among us. That's one terrible lesson we've all learned from this nightmare.

...Wait a second, wait a second... I left New England for this?
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