Penn State Football Deserves Indefinite Death Penalty

Neil ShulmanCorrespondent IJuly 13, 2012

BELLEFONTE, PA - JUNE 18:  Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse following his child sexual-abuse trial on June 18, 2012 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Today the defense began their argument in the sexual abuse trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky who is charged with 52 criminal counts of alleged sexual abuse of children.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

You can be chatting with a friend on the phone, sitting at the dinner table with your family or just sitting in your room thinking.

No matter the scenario, if somehow the conversation brings up the thought of Jerry Sandusky, the obvious associations are "evil monster", "child-molestor" and "I hope he goes to hell".

This is just as true today as it was when the allegations of his sickening actions first surfaced. Now, however, the world has found out in the Freeh report that Penn State icon Joe Paterno did something almost as bad as what Sandusky did—he made no move to stop it, and even worse, covered it up.

The natural next step for most people is to play the blame game and to argue over whose crime was worse (or if they were equally bad): Paterno's cover-up or Sandusky's actual rape. But seriously, folks, what good does blame do?

Call Sandusky any vile name you please. Say that Joe Paterno is a five letter word starting with p for covering it up. Unload the nastiest remarks you can think of for both of them, as well as Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. Dream up the nastiest things that you believe should happen to everybody involved.

Where does that get you?

Paterno is dead, Schultz, Spanier and Curley have lost their jobs and will surely have a hard time finding new ones, and Sandusky is going to spend the rest of his life in prison. Hopefully the tables get turned on him in jail, and we'll find out how much he likes it. But other than that, we can't really "get" him in any way.

So clearly, something else needs to be done.

As former FBI director Louis Freeh pointed out, this was a textbook example of the power of a football program overtaking the power of ethics. You and I believe that trying to stop the rape of a child, or at least contacting the police and telling them everything you know, is more important than protecting the job of a defensive coordinator. 

I'm 18 years old, and I don't have kids. But I know that defensive coordinators are a dime a dozen in the cutthroat world in college football, and even if the man called a better game than Nick Saban, I would not think twice about replacing him with a guy who gave up a hundred yards per game more and did not molest small children.

The problem is, Paterno didn't think that way. Apparently, he needed hindsight to wish he had done more. Really? That's funny, I just need the moral compass of a normal human being.

Not only he did he cover it up, so did anybody else even remotely associated with Penn State football. The reason? They were too scared. It all goes down the line as follows:

-The janitor that heard one of the rapes refused to tell Paterno because "it would get him fired".

-The receivers coach Mike Mcqueary, who witnessed one of the rapes, told Paterno and then did nothing when told it would be handled and never was.

-The supreme leaders of Penn State (Schultz, Spanier and Curley) covered up the evidence for fear that it would bring a bad reputation on PSU football (as if the worldwide perception of Happy Valley is any better now).

-Paterno, the man that brought the program to the glory that the leaders feared they would destroy, basically agreed with them and helped in the cover-up.

Notice a pattern here, people?

Everybody involved here was so afraid to taint the glittering reputation of Nittany Lions football that they decided it was more important to ignore child rape than to risk bringing it down a notch and notifying the police.

The worst part about this whole mess isn't that Sandusky raped these little boys or that Paterno & co. covered it up. No, what's even worse than both of these sad facts is the sick way in which Sandusky was able to get to them in the first place.

He used his stature as Penn State's defensive coordinator to build a children's charity to secure children's trust in him. Then, he invited them into the dark, quiet football complex for a tour, showed them the showers...and, well, you know the rest.

That's what disgusts me the most, that he used the football program's prestige to start the foundation that would grant him access to children.

So to all Penn State fans, I'm sorry, but for that very reason, your program needs to be banished from the face of the earth for a long time.

My strongest grudge against the Nittany Lions before the molestation stories came out is that they merely stood on the opposing sideline as my Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl two years ago. I had absolutely nothing—I repeat nothing—against PSU football before that fateful November day when the story first broke.

You've done nothing wrong as fans, and I really feel bad for you. But not as bad as I feel for the victims and their families.

See? My priorities go as such: victims, then football program, and believe me, you will have a hard time finding somebody who is more obsessed with the game than I am. But the fact that these people put their football program in front of the lives of the victims or, even worse, in Sandusky's case, used the football program as a launching pad to get to molest them, means that Penn State football has to go.

The other sports can stay. But for your own sake, Penn State, please, change your logo, change your colors, maybe even change your team name. I wouldn't even disagree if you wanted to knock down your football stadium and rebuild it a few miles away.

You, as a university, need to undergo a complete overhaul—not the half-baked overhaul you administered by firing Paterno.

It doesn't help the victims. That's the least they and their families want.

You need to do something to show them that you truly regret what happened and that, in the future, no ruined life of a small child will be put before the welfare of your football program. It won't undo the rapes, but that's about as good as we, as stunned and disgusted US citizens, can hope for: an honest apology.

Ten, maybe fifteen years later, after the awful memories of the details of the molestations and the ensuing cover-up have faded, come back and maybe you can try again.

The current players should transfer to other D1 schools. It's not their faults at all, and they should not be punished. Surely they would find places on other teams; if Penn State wanted them then most other BCS schools would find a place for them.

I understand that they should not be punished for the wrongdoings of others, but unfortunately, that's how college football works. Florida won SEC Championships in 1984 and 1990, but because of mistakes made by previous coaches, both titles were revoked. Alabama vacated all their wins from 2005 through 2007. Ohio State can't go to a bowl game because of actions by a former coach and former players. USC couldn't go to bowl games for two years because of what a player did five years earlier.

Should we take back those punishments? Should we hand the Gators two more SEC Championship trophies? Should we give Alabama their wins back? No, that's not how it works, and I'm as big a Gator fan as there is on this planet. It may not be fair, but that's how it is. 

The bottom line is, the simple thought that a football program—no matter how powerful—could be put before the destruction of small children's lives in a list of importance, or even worse, used to get to rape children means that Penn State football should be gone for a good amount of time. There's no lesser punishment that comes close to fitting the crime, not when SMU and Southwest Louisiana lost their football and basketball programs respectively for academic fraud. Failure to banish the PSU football program suggests that cheating on an entrance exam is worse than raping little boys and then covering it up, and after that, doing it all over again. 

Hopefully, if PSU does get the death penalty, it will serve as a warning and an example to all sports teams at any level and will fulfill the only realistic wishes of the victims and their parents—that the safety and peace of mind of children comes first and that nothing like this ever happens again.


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