Tag Archives: Football

Too Big to Fail: The Death Penalty & Penn State


Man I love football.  So much so, that I consciously considered how my son’s name would look on the back of a jersey and sound over the PA before I settled on it.

But that’s not why I’m writing about Penn State.   This is about more than football.  It’s about who we are as a society and what kind of world we are creating for our children.  The remarks this morning of the President of the NCAA reflected that reality.   I believe that the punishment exacted by the NCAA was warranted and appropriate.  I also believe that the Death Penalty was appropriate.  This is why.

Collateral Damage: Victims, victims & more victims

Perhaps the most convincing and disturbing argument I have heard against the Death Penalty is that shutting down the $70.2 million football program at Penn State would have collateral damage.  In fact, when addressing why the Death Penalty was not levied against PSU, the NCAA’s president used this argument as well.  For example:

  • The other sports at Penn State that would lose out on the football revenue they use to fund their programs.
  • The football players themselves, even with the NCAA’s transfer blessing, who would be forced to rebuild their college careers.
  • The businesses that thrive during and because of football season.
  • University employees other than coaches and administration – concession workers, janitorial staff – who would lose countless paid hours or perhaps their jobs if Beaver Stadium were to sit empty all fall.
  • The entire town of State College – a small, idyllic community where PSU football is a commodity that drives the economy much the way that Ford, General Motors and Chrysler drove Detroit’s.

Innocent, all of them, without any knowledge of the terror and heartache being hidden inside Penn State’s walls.

I agree.  The collateral damage would indeed be widespread and nearly unacceptable.  Imposing suffering on others is certainly no way to heal the suffering of the first.

But I still think the Death Penalty is the right answer.

What makes these arguments so disturbing is that I believe that Joe, Graham, Gary and Tim had all of these people in mind when they made the decision to hide the sins of Sandusky.  Certainly Joe wanted to protect his innocent players from the scandal and scrutiny that would come with reporting Sandusky in 1998.  Surely Tim wanted to protect the student-athletes playing golf, tennis, and countless other sports by protecting the program that made enough money to support so many others.  Can there be any question that Gary and Graham had the well-being of State College in mind when they turned their backs on the well-being of Sandusky’s victims?

And I think that we can all agree that they made the wrong decisions.

The reality is that when people do wrong, innocent people get hurt.  When the wrong is corrected, the hurt may expand.  But that hurt which we did not invite upon the innocent cannot and should not deter us from the just punishment of wrongs.

Setting aside the modern industrial prison complex and the moral conundrum that presents, would any of us argue that prisons are inherently bad?  That some people, once afforded a fair and just trial, free of bias, with competent representation and convicted by a jury of their true peers, should be imprisoned for their crimes?  The justly convicted have mothers and fathers, spouses, children, careers and communities – all of whom may hurt because of their absence.  But their hurt is not the work of the justice system or our moral code.  Their pain cannot be laid at the feet of those who prosecuted or convicted the accused.  The collateral damage is the burden of the criminal alone.

Beyond Football. Beyond Penn State.

When the Freeh Report was released, my initial argument was about accountability within the NCAA in reaction to talk of the NCAA not having a basis to punish Penn State because this was an issue outside of football.  Hogwash.  This is an NCAA issue because it concerns the way in which an NCAA member institution managed its athletic program.

Even if “covering up child rape for 14 years” isn’t an enumerated violation, the member institutions of the NCAA have never shied away from punishing individual players for “moral violations”.  Smoking weed, hitting your girlfriend and peeing in public have nothing to do with the game of football or your status as a player, yet they are actions that will cause a university to immediately distance itself from a student-athlete.  The NCAA should then be free to distance itself from member institutions who also fall short of their moral standards, no?

But after some thought, I think that that argument should be expanded.  Beyond punishing administrators as zealously as we punish players, the punishment of Penn State should be part of a larger conversation about holding the bastions of our society as accountable as we hold the paupers.  This notion of “too big to fail” strikes me as a virus infecting our national moral code.  At what point did we begin to shift the balance of responsibility away from the power, prestige and income that always accompanied it?  How do we reconcile with ourselves the entrusting of our assets, whether they are our homes, our core industries, or our children, with men, women and institutions that we refuse to hold accountable?

Where they do that at?

While on the other hand we are holding 16 year olds, young men and women who may not have fully, biologically, developed the ability to make good decisions, accountable with their lives.

Credit: Harry Campbell, Wall Street Journal

Compare that to at least six intelligent, educated, high-functioning adults, who each had the opportunity to make the right decision at least 4,380 times.  Instead, they built a system and culture that placed careers before children’s lives.   Still we balk at the idea of the Death Penalty for Penn State?

The NCAA had a tough decision to make.  While I applaud the boundaries they pushed, I still believe that they fell short.  I believe that the Death Penalty was the right answer for not only dismantling the sick and twisted culture inside PSU football, but obliterating it.

Avoiding the collateral damage of punishment, while it sounds right, only creates more damage in the end.  The avoidance is, in fact, what creates the status of “too big to fail”.

“Too big to fail” creates people and institutions that are virtually untouchable.  We are sending a dangerous message to our children.  We are setting a dangerous precedent.  And we are creating a dangerous imbalance of power within our social structure.

What say you?  Are we morally obligated to punish the most important among us or do we do more harm than good by holding them to a strict moral code?  Is Penn State too big to fail?