What happened in Happy Valley was a horrible tragedy. The men implicated in the Freeh report (and anyone else that concealed facts about Sandusky’s abuse, for that matter) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the criminal justice system—their behavior was disgraceful and cowardly. I know the world agrees that Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley should be held accountable for their actions in civil lawsuits filed by the victims and their families.
Writers, commentators and fans across the country have also called for the Penn State football program to receive the death penalty. I think we should avoid this knee jerk reaction—seeking vengeance against the football program. This should continue to be about the victims and their families.
The death penalty doesn’t hurt or punish Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley. It punishes Penn State students who have nothing to do with this scandal. The death penalty also punishes the football players who want only to play a sport they love. By ending the football program, every student athlete in every sport will suffer at Penn State. The football program funds all non-revenue sports and its loss would devastate the budgets of teams across the campus. The death penalty would also devastate small business owners that rely heavily on the 107,000 fans that pack Beaver Stadium eight weekends a year.
I understand the argument that the Penn State football program could eventually rebuild after the death penalty, but it would take decades. I’ve also heard that since the NCAA authorized the SMU death penalty in the 1980′s, it should consider utilizing this power again. Still others argue that since the NCAA required USC, Miami and UNC to sit out bowl games and lose scholarships, the authority must enforce a harsher penalty on Penn State. I disagree with these claims completely. The NCAA should stick to regulating competitive advantages in college athletics. Paying players, cheating on academics to ensure eligibility, and having agents pay players while in school can result in competitive advantages and should be fairly investigated and punished. Penn State’s football program didn’t benefit at all on the field and in recruiting. In fact, it was adversely affected by Sandusky’s crimes and the negative association the school’s name now conjures.
Sandusky’s actions had to be dealt with by the United States legal system—his life imprisonment was a well-deserved fate. I think the NCAA needs to be careful about the death penalty slippery slope. The term “lack of institutional control” is thrown around by writers as justification to cripple the program, but that term normally applies to dealings with players and coaches that are related to the actual product on the field.
I’ve read articles that say in order for Penn State to move on it must start its football program over. How does ending the football program help the victims? Who does that satisfy other than rival fans seeking vengeance? How does it punish Spanier, Schultz and Curley who were all fired and face prison? The legacy of Joe Paterno is already forever tarnished. The death penalty wouldn’t serve as a deterrent for coaches and presidents in difficult situations in the future. They will be far more concerned about legal consequences if they choose to conceal wrongdoing. I think Penn State should dedicate a portion of future football revenue to the victims and their families and the fight against child abuse. Maybe Penn State should suffer from probation, scholarship losses, and bowl restrictions in order to alleviate the pressure the NCAA is facing. That’s fine. I would just urge those out there hoping for the death penalty to think long and hard about who this drastic measure really would punish.