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Why Penn State Football Deserves The ‘Death Penalty’

by Tanya Domi on July 13, 2012

in Analysis,Opinion,Sports,Tanya Domi

Post image for Why Penn State Football Deserves The ‘Death Penalty’

The NCAA should apply its “death penalty” to the Penn State University football program by canceling the next two seasons.  It would actually be doing the university a favor by applying its harshest medicine.

Lots of knashing of teeth and expressions of shock and dismay by commentators and members of the public came yesterday following former FBI director Louis Freeh’s announcement that his investigation determined that Penn State University‘s leadership engaged in a systematic and sustained coverup of former football coach Jerry Sandusky‘s heinous sex crimes against children.

Today’s edition of The New York Times leads with a four-column above the fold story and photo spread that is so damning, that anyone who maybe a Penn State alumnus or affiliated with the university could only feel deep shame.

The country should be ashamed.

But no one should be surprised. This is a university that made a calculated decision that football was more important that the well being of hundreds of children, whom Sandusky literally hunted by using his now-defunct Second Mile Foundation for at-risk children–to recruit them as intended targets for his perverse, pedophiliac attraction toward prepubescent boys.

Freeh said during his press conference yesterday that “the most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”

And, Freeh said most importantly, they did so for “fear of bad publicity” that would ultimately damage the exalted football program.

These repeated crimes, for which Sandusky was found guilty last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse, were affirmatively protected from investigation and prosecution through a conspiracy led by Graham Spanier, the former president and a licensed therapist; Joe Paterno, the once beloved football coach, an iconic figure who is forever discredited in death; Tim Curley, the former athletic director; Gary Schultz, a university vice president, who oversaw campus police and Thomas Harmon, the former chief of campus police.

Curley and Schultz face forthcoming criminal trials, among their charges are perjury.

When you stack up these staggering criminal convictions, as well as additional pending criminal charges and the  Freeh report that lays out a calculated conspiracy, the breathtaking institutional overreach at Penn State to protect the football program, simply pales when compared to extensive rule violations by Southern Methodist University’s football program, whom the NCAA punished with the “death penalty” by canceling the SMU’s 1987 game schedule. Cash and cars for athletes versus a football coach who engaged in the systematic rape of children in the university football athletic facility, allowed to continue for 14 years with impunity while the entire leadership of the university remained complicit in silence and inaction?

This is so obvious, even to the most casual observer.

Shut down the Penn State football program for two years.

The NCAA, which has implemented the “death penalty” only five times before, would actually be doing the university a favor. Penn State needs to clean house from top to bottom–reset its priorities and demonstrate through its practices and values that it understands the depth of the Spanier-Paterno-Sandusky violations and how far the institution has strayed from its main purpose, which is to educate young people as future thinkers and leaders of our country.

READ: Amid Pedophila Scandal, Penn State to Hasten Football Coach Retirement

Another reason for the NCAA to apply the death penalty is Penn State’s failure to implement the Clery Act, a federal law that requires university and colleges to annually report crimes committed on campus to the Department of Education. Failure to report campus crimes includes penalties up to $27, 500 per infraction. Indeed, not only has Penn State failed to report these covered up crimes to the federal government, but according to Freeh’s report, they hadn’t even implemented the Clery Act itself:

As you will read in our report, Penn State failed to implement the provisions of the Clery Act, a 1990 federal law that requires the collecting and reporting of the crimes such as Sandusky committed on campus in 2001. Indeed, on the day Sandusky was arrested, Penn State’s Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form. Mr. Spanier said that he and the Board never even had a discussion about the Clery Act until November 2011.

This stunning finding by Freeh raises even more questions. Fortunately, the Department of Education had announced in November 2011 it was opening up an investigation into “sexual misconduct” at Penn State, that will review compliance with the Clery Act. But as Freeh’s report makes clear, Penn State had not even implemented the law. How did Penn State manage to escape implementation without the Department of Education raising this as an issue years ago?  It is my hope that the federal government will throw the book at Penn State, max out their Clery penalties and leverage future federal aid by insisting on rigorous oversight and compliance.

Penn State’s sordid chapter of Jerry Sandusky and its pedophilia scandal will not be over for some time to come. Sandusky faces sentencing next month; Curley and Schultz face criminal trials; the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is likely to continue, if not expand its investigation based upon the findings of the Freeh report and a forthcoming investigation by the federal department of education has yet to be finalized.

And then there are the children.

All the children who were raped and abused by not only Sandusky, but, by extension, by Penn State University’s active conspiracy and coverup. Somehow, someway, the university needs to compensate these victims for this heart wrenching abuse that will surely be with them to end of their lives. All the more important that Penn State University football should be demoted so the State College community and the country can heal.

Tanya L. Domi is the Deputy Editor of the New Civil Rights Movement. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and teaches human rights in East Central Europe and former Yugoslavia.  Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi was a nationally recognized LGBT civil rights activist who worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force during the campaign to lift the military ban in the early 1990s. Domi has also worked internationally in a dozen countries on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights and gender issues.  She is chair of the board of directors for GetEQUAL. Domi is currently writing a book about the emerging LGBT human rights movement in the Western Balkans.

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Scott_Rose July 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I agree with Tanya!

Rick2L July 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm

So punish the student body and the student athletes because their elders failed do discharge their responsibility.

SOVERYGAY July 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm

That is exactly what needs to happen.Maybe the student body should go to another school.Those in charge obviously made some very vile and deliberate choices.The only way other institutions will not make the same error in judgement if the penalty is swift and drastically painful.I say shut them down for a couple of years.May the civil suits that follow bankrupt the University.Next we need to hold that Catholic Church responsible,not just the pedophile Priest but the entire Institution.

AudreySmith July 16, 2012 at 3:42 pm

<div class="idc-message" id="idc-comment-msg-div-402880347"><a class="idc-close" title="Click to Close Message" href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(402880347)"><span>Close Message</span> Comment posted. <p class="idc-nomargin"><a class="idc-share-facebook" target="_new" href="; style="text-decoration: none;"><span class="idc-share-inner"><span>Share on Facebook</span></span> or <a href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(402880347)">Close MessageThe entire borough of State College is supported by the existence of the university. You are not just condemning the football program and the administration of PSU, but an entire town (pop. 42,034) that depends on the university for its livelihood.

Serenifly July 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm

College sport in the US is a multi-billion dollar business. They students gain the least from it. They are just pawns in an industry where others profit from them.

AudreySmith July 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I understand the reasoning behind this, but just realize that this action will not just affect the football program. The football program is what pays for the operation of the rest of this university. Most of the people I know in State College – and indeed, most of those I know in all of central PA – work for Penn State, mostly as staff members, although I know a handful of the faculty. None of them work for the sports programs, but all of their jobs could be in danger should PSU lose its football income. Maybe this is what needs to happen, but, if so, there will be a lot more families than you may realize hurting in the wake.

stat1124 July 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Not sure why everyone is on this "You cant punish the students and fans for what executive officers have done? Why is that? How makes that decision? Again the facts here is that the NCAA believes that some violations may have occurred by Penn State while they attempted to cover up felonies and more importantly not report them. For those who still are not aware of what violations Penn State is under question for possibly violating, you may want to read this article:….

When you leaders fail you, the entire organization suffers. This situation is no different.

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