Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nittany Lion Death Penalty

I usually post about the writing craft: tips, book reviews, grammar nuances, essence of a story, etc.  Today, I wanted to rant a little.

First, I need to make it plain that I am in no way a Penn State fan.  Never liked Joe Pa, really. Thought it was silly that he hung on past his prime, past his ability to coach.  It was extremely egotistical and nostalgic for him to insist and the Penn State powers that be, to relent to his coaching past his 76th birthday.

There, I said my peace on that.

With all that behind me, I feel that the discussion of a "death penalty" for the university football team is a complete over-reaction to the sins of the father.  I have heard this "sins of the father" bit spat out by well-meaning journalists and critics.  The matter at hand is a larger, broader failure than a single football team, a single university. 

This phrase assumes first that Joe Pa was the father.  He allowed the criminal, Jerry Sandusky, to continue his role with the university even after learning of Mr. Sandusky's proclivities.  This was a grievous and unforgivable error, for sure.  His storied career, his influence on young men, his legacy were tarnished by this one error of judgment.  The crime, the criminal, his enablers, and the football department caused irreparable damage to the image of the school, the sport, and the NCAA in general. 

But, we are missing the point.   
The punishment of a "death penalty" does not fit the crime, nor does it fit as a proper punishment for the president, coach, athletic director, coaching staff, and student athletes of the university.  Sandusky deserves a life sentence without parole, or worse.  Joe's statue probably needs to come down, mostly due to the bad taste and the message of condoning it sends.  But, the death sentence is a poor, desperate attempt for those with righteous indignation (and well-deserved) to appease their sense of justice.

But, punishing a football program whose leader has passed from this life, whose athletic director, and school president no longer work for the university, serves to punish only those who had no direct bearing upon the crimes, the criminal that perpetrated them, or the blind eyes that were turned and allowed it to continue.  A death penalty only punishes the students, the personnel, the boosters, the fans, and the people who are left to pick up the pieces from this unprecedented mess.

Our society is guilty of doling out meaningless punishment of demanding justice in as many ways as possible.  The death penalty would be indicative of a punishment brought about because the public sentiment demands that a wrong was perpetrated and needs to be punished--justice must be meted out.  Employees of Penn State managed to look the other way while a co-worker committed heinous crimes against children.  These atrocities are both deserving of punishment.  A death penalty for the university is perhaps the wrong target for that punishment.  What do you think?