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The Penn State Argument: Maybe It's Not That Complicated

I once heard a university president say that you will be remembered more for how you treat others than for any particular decisions you made. After ten years as a university president, I'm not sure that is entirely true. Presidents can become frozen in their tracks, make expedient decisions designed principally to calm the waters, or take actions that will make people feel good in the short run, but focusing exclusively on such criteria is not good leadership. Sometimes - not too often, I hope - principle and progress must take precedence over popularity. Nevertheless, there is wisdom in the concept of focusing first and foremost on people. "Putting People First" is a motto for me personally, and it ties in squarely with my professional upbringing. Looking forward, I worry about the soul of the profession.

Graham Spanier
Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences; 2001, Vol. 93 Issue 3, p18-19, 2p

As Americans, much of our life revolves around making mountains out of molehills. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are breaking up? Hold the presses and call CNN! President Obama and Mitt Romney twisted numbers and facts to discredit the other in a political ad? Let us all tell our friends and make updates to Facebook about the travesty. The Kardashians did something other than waste space? Get everybody on it. Let's face it. We sensationalize and attack because we crave news. At this point in our lives, it is exactly what drives us to our opinions. Honestly, without this culture, a site like Off Tackle Empire would never exist because without this need to digest information and make glib comments about this or that, our entire reason for 'social' reporting goes out the window.

As such, while most of us would believe that we are above the petty details of news and understand what is right and what is wrong, we often overcomplicate the basic details of a case. In regards to everything that has happened at Penn State, I want to admit that I was one of those people. The day after the Freeh report was released, the immediate call to arms by the media caused a kneejerk reaction by almost everyone. On one side you had, and still have, a mob amassing waiting to burn the stadium down in not just a metaphorical sense, but most likely also a physical sense. On the other, you have people clamoring for reason and forgiveness because there is so much more to it than just football. Arguments of the complicated magnitude that this situation presented were not only offered, but argued relentlessly, and being a person of sound logical nature, I am easily quoted as saying we should take a measured response to everything that happened.

However, the more I have pondered the events that transpired, including Jerry Sandusky raping children and the subsequent coverup and enabling provided by Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Joe Paterno, the more I believe that this is a very cut and dry matter. Especially in light of the NY Times report today in which we learned that Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier worked out a deal where money made everything okay for them, it is time for Penn State football to take a break. This does not come out of a sense of self-aggrandizing morality, this does not come without a lot of thought, and this does not come lightly. With all the information that we have on the table, even understanding the magnitude of loss and hardship this will cause to innocent parties, it is time for Penn State to show the world what it really values by, "putting people first." After all, isn't that what Spanier said Penn State is all about?

Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good.

Joe Paterno
According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), a victim of rape is 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to commit suicide. From 1998 to 2012, Jerry Sandusky was allowed to rape at least 10 children on the Penn State campus and abroad, and when I say he was allowed to, I literally mean that. According to the Freeh report timeline, Spanier, Curley, Scultz, and Paterno knew about Sandusky's behavior, but in hopes of doing the, "humane," thing to the troubled Sandusky, they not only turned a blind eye, they assisted in providing unfettered access to a University that was used as, "currency," to lure his victims into his sick traps. Each and every victim of Sandusky's vile actions will have to live with not only the stigma of being a rape victim, but also the nightmares and mental affections that come with this crime. In light of the Freeh report, documentation and investigations, it is clear that the men with the absolute power to stop these vile acts made the decision to choose money and fame instead.

Let that sink in for a moment. For fourteen years, football was more important than protecting children. This is not an issue of paying players to come to your University, this is not lying to NCAA investigators about some tattoos; no, this is about making a cognitive choice to choose the power and money that comes with a successful and clean program over protecting innocent victims. Read those statistics again. 4 times more likely to commit suicide, 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs... The question I have asked myself time and time again is how could anyone, much less a group, believe this was okay? How degraded is the culture surrounding all of College Football that this was even a discussion of how to respond?

If you search articles I have written on this subject, I have been very slow to condemn the Penn State football team to the burn pile. I even went so far as to praise Paterno as a man of principle when he passed away. I even called for less retribution and more grace to the football program even as the Freeh report was being digested. Now, in light of the evidence, I just do not believe we can sit back and allow that to happen. In the now infamous letter sent out to Penn State football players, both current and former, the late Joe Paterno vehemently defended the football team. He said that this was not an issue about football and that the program's many accomplishments should not be and will not be tarnished. While many have said that he was just trying to point out the good that the football team has brought to Penn State, what I am beginning to read is what his attitude towards the whole thing seemed to be.

Football's good is more important than all bad.
Football's ability to graduate players is more important.
Football's on the field accomplishments and the grand experiment is enough to overlook 14 years of child rape.

I agree with Paterno that this is not a football issue. This goes far beyond the reaches of a game we enjoy so much. This strikes at the very heart of morality as a culture. This is about talking about what is right and what is wrong. If football has pushed us to a point where a major University filled with educated and accomplished people can choose money and fame over the lives of children, then football is no longer the conversation's focal point, but that is because it is so beyond comprehension for us to worry about a game when such atrocities were allowed to continue.

I began this piece with an excerpt from former Penn State President and basically Public Enemy Number One in my book, Graham Spanier. Read this statement again, "Sometimes - not too often, I hope - principle and progress must take precedence over popularity." That was in 2001! This man was in the midst of allowing more victims of rape to go unprotected. Under his watch, he was choosing popularity and money over principle and progress and the men alongside him agreed. Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno are just as culpable for each of these children's rape as anyone. Sadly, the reason they were in that position is because of this, "culture," of too big to fail we have allowed football to become.

Now, I do want to talk directly to students and alums of Penn State, fans of the Nittany Lions at large, residents of State College, employees and business owners who will be affected by this decision that is looming on the horizon, and others who may feel like I am attacking at the very heart of who they are. You are officially collateral damage. You had no idea that the four men who were entrusted to lead the Grand Experiment were failing everyone in such a monumental fashion. You were not the ones looking the other way as Jerry Sandusky raped child after child. No, you are innocent in all of this, but you must understand that this is not just about you. This is about recalibrating where our priorities lie. So much talk has been about worrying about the community -- creating a way for the economy to still thrive on football because without it, there is nothing. In an environment where football is too big to fail, there comes a time when it must come back down to earth to protect the community. This is about creating a sense of morality, that is, creating a system of priorities that actually makes sense. The Penn State football department failed in its job to enrich and enhance State College and in turn made it a much worse place. While the short-term ramifications of Beaver Stadium being quiet on Saturdays seems like a death knell to the town, please understand that unless something as drastic as a shutdown of the team happens, your town will never really be alive.

All this to say, sometimes we like to make things complicated. We like to muddy the water and jumble the picture. We create scenario after scenario to try and make all parties happy. And if not happy, we at least try and make our point the center of attention. In this case, the bottom line is that football was too big to fail in State College resulting in men in a position to stop a child rapist choosing that their pocketbooks were more important. The Sandusky scandal may be bigger than the game, but it is time the game suffers for its transgressions. It's just that simple.