About a decade ago, one of the biggest scandals to rock this country was just beginning to take shape. It involved an arrogant leader of one of the largest government funded institutions in the country. It is a cautionary tale of what can happen when too much authority is concentrated within a single person. Someone who has, by way of high performance and longevity in their role, become too powerful to question.
Many (most?) of you have never heard of Darleen Druyun. At the height of her powers, as the Air Force’s deputy acquisition chief, Druyun was the final authority on billions of dollars in weapons systems acquisitions. Known as the “Dragon Lady” by both military personnel and contractors alike, Ms. Druyun had a reputation as a tough negotiator with an abrasive personality. “She has a very difficult disposition," says her former boss, Marvin Sambur, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions. "She believed that no matter what the circumstances, she's in charge.” This feeling was reinforced by the tenure Ms. Druyun had in the position. In a world where leaders, bosses, and managers come and go with elections every few years, the reign of Darleen Druyun endured.
In one famous occurrence, Ms. Druyun boarded a jet only to find a three-star general in her preferred seat. The Dragon Lady’s reaction? “General, you get the hell out of my seat!” Guess what happened next. The General got out of her seat.
All of this went unchallenged until Ms. Druyun took a job as a vice president at Boeing. It turns out she was negotiating a $23.5M tanker buy while simultaneously interviewing for the new position at Boeing. An investigation found Ms. Druyun had been manipulating Air Force acquisitions for years. Nobody knew about it because she was a pentagon star, had led numerous initiatives to improve Air Force acquisition, and would be in her position long after her superiors had moved on.
A similar narrative has been told by the media regarding Joe Paterno and Penn State University. The all-powerful football coach dominating an entire educational institution is such a stereotype, the media simply assumes it to be the case. It’s so cliché to say, “They believed they were bigger than the program/school/NCAA/law.” However, it is a cliché to a stereotype which does not apply here. This was not a case of arrogance run amok, a la Darleen Druyun. By the accounts of those who knew the situation around State College for the past decade, Joe Paterno was not some all-powerful dictator sitting in front of a dozen monitors to supervise all that went on in his realm. He was actually described as having, “very few allies. He was isolated and he was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been.”
That narrative was advanced this past week by the conclusion and subsequent release of Louis Freeh’s investigation report. Most Americans did not waste time reading the entire Freeh report. I mean, that thing was really long. And we don’t have time in our busy days to read 267 pages when we need to have an opinion on this now. Besides, we read what some other people wrote about the pieces of the report they read. And we do not approve of the things others have written about the thing Louis Freeh wrote, not one bit sir.
Obviously, this generation (anyone between 15-50) is known as the “now” generation for a reason. We demand to know what is going on in real time, make judgments just as quickly, and lose interest by the time all the facts are out and due process has run its course. Taking the time to read all 267 pages would make your informed opinion too late to participate while the debate is still ongoing. Those taking the time to read the full report (specifically the appendices) noticed Appendices 2A and 2B (pages 167-169) describing the 1998 investigation of Jerry Sandusky by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). This was also investigated by detective Ronald Shreffler and District Attorney Ray Gricar, who decided not to press charges. The “reasonable conclusion” on page 75 appears to be a direct misinterpretation of Appendix 5G. Tim Curley had a conversation with Joe Paterno in which Curley reporting the incident to the DPW was clearly the expectation. In fact, the plan was to “help” Sandusky report it to DPW if he wouldn’t do it on his own. It does appear Curley and Shultz dropped the ball (tragically and unforgivably) on this one. I will not defend their actions or pretend everything that happened at Penn State was acceptable. Clearly it was not. But this was not a systematic cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s actions. Alas, despite these inconsistencies between the evidence in the Freeh Report appendices and the aforementioned “reasonable conclusions,” Mark Emmert had all the ammunition he needed.
People were mortified at what happened to those boys (with good reason), shock turned to disgust followed by anger. People wanted blood. The angry mob that is the American public, fueled by vitriol coming from the media*, took up their collective torches and pitchforks and metaphorically marched on State College. Somebody had to pay. Jerry Sandusky? He’s in jail. Spanier, Curley and Schultz? A nice start but we don’t even know who they are. No, someone needed to PAY! “We want them to weep with anguish and despair for what they’ve done,” the public demanded. “They who?” a reasonable person might ask. “Everyone. I don’t know. Shut the whole thing down!” From Douglas Anderson (Dean of College of Communications) and Daniel Larson (Dean of Eberly College of Science), this was everyone’s fault.
*Is this media company really the beacon we want guiding our moral compass. Aside of sitting on the Syracuse tapes for a decade, thus enabling a potential serial child rapist, they green-lighted a pretty racist and sexist marketing campaign that actually did happen in real life.
Around this time, Mark Emmert, the leader of an organization consistently derided for incompetence and weakness, saw an opportunity to make a show of his power. He could make a grand statement for the NCAA world (including and especially the fans) to see, with which nobody would dare argue. If you argue against any such penalties for Penn State, you are supporting child rape, right? Or as SB Nation’s Spencer Hall put it, “NCAA Beats Up Corpse, Then Demands Your Applause.” Except these penalties had nothing to do with either the prevention of or healing for victims of child sexual abuse. This was the equivalent of taking a free shot at a formerly popular kid in school after he was beaten up by the school bully. Emmert levied these punitive punishments, proclaiming to be protecting innocent victims. This is the type of grandstanding typically reserved for District Attorneys with designs on running for political office. In leveling this misguided castigation at an entire institution rather than the actual criminals, Mr. Emmert has significantly and willfully (criminally?) harmed tens of thousands of innocent victims.
Nobody from Penn State’s national power volleyball, soccer, or wrestling teams had anything to do with these events. All depend greatly on Penn State football for funding. How does eviscerating their funds boost the mental state of a 23 year old man who was raped by Jerry Sandusky 12 years ago? Mr. Emmert has tragically forgotten the innocent child victims, and instead, in a cowardly act of self-aggrandizement, created thousands more. In levying this punishment, Mr. Emmert has missed a relatively small mark (the 3-4 people responsible) and he has missed it with a bazooka.
Who spent $6,000,000 to pay for the Freeh Report? Penn State. Now, do you think Auburn will spend the money to investigate Cecil Newton or coaches paying players? Will LSU investigate Willie Lyles’ shopping Patrick Peterson for $80,000? Do you see South Carolina investigating players for staying nearly free in hotels for a year? Penn State did something most Americans would consider honorable in hiring an outside party to investigate itself, assisting the investigation (even received credit from the NCAA for that one), and publicizing the findings. Penn State was then crucified for those findings by the NCAA. Meanwhile, those with less honor (Auburn, LSU, and South Carolina) have gone largely unpunished. How likely will such schools be to thoroughly investigate themselves in the future if this is the result? This punishment does nothing to make the child victims whole as adults (still got raped, still trying to function as a member of society, still emotional damage that will never fully heal). It does nothing to punish those responsible (Sandusky is in jail for life. Spanier, Curley, and Shultz left Penn State 9 months ago and could be joining Sandusky. Even Joe Paterno, if you believe Freeh’s opinion, is dead). It does nothing to prevent child sex abuse from happening in the future.
This is a sniper rifle aimed directly at the throat of Penn State University’s (the #45 ranked academic institution in the country) athletic department. This is an AAU member institution spending $753,358,000 on academic research in 2009 alone. Mr Emmert has decided the most prudent way to punish Jerry Sandusky is to harm the innocent freshman bio-chem student who will never experience the euphoria of her school competing nationally in anything. Dressing up in uniformly monochromatic costumes on fall Saturdays is as much a part of the college student experience as staying up late during finals week to finish that Business Law thesis or carrying all your belongings on a lanyard. This punishment robs tens of thousands of students of that experience.
Can we please quit saying “a football culture that fostered…” We’ll discuss the culture at Penn State further in paragraph 3 of the section on defenses and rebuttals of Mr. Emmert’s punishment, below. For now, let’s just all admit that same “football culture” exists in Georgia, and Louisiana, both of whom have newspapers demanding harsher penalties for Penn State. Willie Lyles, who? As Brent Musberger* said in his appearance on PTI last week, the only way you are going to change the culture of big time collegiate athletics is if you take the scoreboard down. As long as we are keeping score, people are going to want to win and will look for advantages to do so.
* If you missed it, Musburger also had a lot of other insightful comments regarding keeping the focus on the victims rather than football and the NCAA overstepping its bounds. Video of this interview is bizarrely unavailable on ESPN’s website. If you find a video (or even audio) of this interview, please link to it in the comments.
And yet, the reaction from people around the college football-loving nation was, “Ha! That’s what you get! That’s what you get!” while snapping their collective heads back and forth like Loretta Brown lecturing Cleveland about being less than masculine. But, that’s what who gets? There really is very little one can say in defense of Mr. Emmert’s punitive actions. Numerous coaches and athletic directors have been fired for less egregious errors in judgment. Let’s analyze four of the most popular defenses of Mr. Emmert’s decision:
1- The main defense of this punishment seems based in the concept that if you disparage said punishment, you effectively argue the rape of a child is trivial or even (offensively) acceptable.
a. That is simply not true as the two are, in reality, quite separate issues. We’ve all learned in elementary school “two wrongs don’t make a right?” Well, a couple high level Penn State administrators (most specifically, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz) made a ridiculous error in judgment. Mark Emmert “righted” the wrong by committing one of his own. The punishment of innocent people, by its very nature, is inherently wrong. Our entire judicial system is based upon that single principle.
2- Child rape is bad. Anyone having anything to do with anyone who ever heard of anything like this going on anywhere must be punished to the fullest extent possible by every clear-conscienced person everywhere.
a. Yes, the sexual assault of children is bad enough that words like despicable, horrible, unthinkable, and depraved hardly do it justice. Very few acts in this world compare to the unspeakable nature of the destruction of a child’s innocence. The emotional reaction to kill everyone is understandable, albeit an irrational one.
b. However, we should all be able to agree it is wrong to harm innocent people. Logic dictates punishment should be for those culpable in this situation. The only people with any culpability are either in jail, fired and soon facing trial, or dead. Neither the director of media relations, student video coordinator, or anyone currently affiliated with this program had any knowledge of the matter at hand. Let alone the biology professor, volleyball player, or local sports bar owner, all of whom will directly suffer. Mr. Emmert’s punitive punishment doesn’t just harm innocent people, it only harms innocent people.
3- The culture needed changed. It was the win-at-all-costs culture of Penn State that allowed this to happen.
a. The concept here is that the only way to correct the zealot-like focus on football was to make football go away for a while. Then this cesspool of moral turpitude can focus on growing as an academic institution rather than a football factory.
b. This was never a football factory with a single-minded infatuation with winning. Penn State football student-athletes enrolling from 2001-04 graduated at an 87% clip. Penn State’s 2011 APR score? 971, good for fourth in the Big Ten. Did people in and around Penn State care about football? Absolutely. More than they do in Columbus, Tuscaloosa, Austin, Norman, Gainesville, and every other national caliber college football area? Absolutely not. This was not a systematic cover-up perpetrated or allowed by an entire institution. The real evidence in the Freeh Report (regardless of various interpretations) points to a very bad decision by 3-4 people. The culture in and around State College, PA was one of academic success and discipline. Penn State (ranked the #45 ranked academic institution by US News and World Report) recruited players who could survive and graduate in this tough academic environment. While a few individuals may have needed to go (and they have gone), the culture did not.
4- This punishment will make it less likely a situation involving abuse like this happens in the future. Mark Emmert’s intent with this punishment was to send a message. Child abuse in this country will no longer be tolerated. This will get the attention of every school aiding or sheltering people who skirt moral authority.
a. It is true this action will get the attention of everybody who interacts with the NCAA, from the school presidents to the fans.
b. However, this was neither the venue nor method to go about sending such a message. Several options were available to Mr. Emmert which did not involve the systematic destruction of that upon which so many innocent people depended. A fund could be created to pay for the college education of victims of child abuse at any school (Penn State or otherwise) they choose. A similar fund could cover counseling for the victims. Penn State could have been ordered to contribute generously (financial, manpower, and other resources) to the often under-funded and under-manned District Attorney’s offices around Pennsylvania to aid prosecution of child sex abusers, open a series of shelters for families of abusive men, and/or lead a series of seminars about the signs of child abuse to help adults detect such atrocities in the future. Those would have helped prevent future victims while supporting those who have suffered. Mr. Emmert’s punishment does little to aid the victims of Jerry Sandusky, and even less to prevent child sex abuse in the future. How much less likely is it something like this could happen in the future? The type of malfunctioning brain allowing a person to commit the crimes of Sandusky will not be swayed by the prospect of his/her program missing four bowl games. There is no prospective amount of damage to the football program that would have prevented Jerry Sandusky from doing what he did.
For those of you screaming, “But that doesn’t punish Penn State! A bunch of requirements to assist victims of child abuse instead of a bowl ban or death penalty lets Penn State off the hook!” Ask yourself this question: What impact does the punishment of Penn State football have on your life? It’s true, the suggestions in section 4b above would less profoundly harm Penn State’s football program. But what is really the goal here? All along, I thought the goal was to do anything possible to help the victims recover while preventing child abuse in the future. Jerry Sandusky’s victims (and child sex abuse in general) were supposed to be the point of this whole thing. The antagonists of this story (Sandusky, Curley, Shultz, and debatably Spanier and Paterno) are 9+ months removed from the program and being punished severely by the legal system. By focusing solely on damaging the Penn State football program, Mark Emmert has missed the point entirely.
Fans of other programs should be very careful before claiming the moral high ground. Schools like Alabama (Bear’s Angels), Oregon (Teamwork program), Tennessee (hostesses), and Texas (Angels), have long used attractive coeds with cute nicknames to make an impression on athletes during visits. These events have led to some pretty rough consequences for these girls. Baylor had a horrific scenario unfold involving the murder of a teammate, widespread drug use, and a cover-up of NCAA violations. The NCAA banned them from non-conference play in 2005-06 and they recovered to make the NCAA tournament by the 2007-08 season. Notre Dame’s football program accidentally killed a videographer and a series of sexual abuse and intimidation led to another student’s suicide. Both tragic events took place in the fall of 2010, when Mark Emmert was named NCAA President. Total NCAA “punitive and corrective measures” for Notre Dame? None.
For those who read all four arguments above and still want to replace Penn State University with an empty crater, I go back to the last sentence in paragraph 2b: Mr. Emmert’s punitive punishment doesn’t just harm innocent people, it only harms innocent people. There are people who must be held accountable for criminal actions. They have been or will soon be. Members of the Penn State community at large (from current players to local sports bar owners) are not among them. By using football penalties as the currency by which Penn State must repay Jerry Sandusky’s victims, Mark Emmert has callously ignored the very victims he claims to be standing up for, and refocused the issue on football. How many lost scholarships does it cost to unrape a child? Like a future politician laying the foundation for a mayoral or congressional campaign, Mr. Emmert has conveniently and selectively named himself the moral compass by which all collegiate employees will be measured. The Penn State community (and reasonable college sports fans nationwide) needs to inundate the NCAA with contacts, calls, and emails about every conceivable violation at every other school around the country. Luckily, it seems as though a few former players have just such an idea.
Penn State did not have a Darleen Druyun type situation. The NCAA, on the other hand, does appear to. Mark Emmert’s disregard for the victims of Jerry Sandusky, willingness to damage tens of thousands of innocent people, and the grandstanding nature in which he has done so are quite telling of the man in charge of the NCAA. He is no hero defending that which is good and right in this world. There were myriad options at his disposal (outlined in 4b above) to help Sandusky’s victims, prevent future child sex abuse, and enact change around the NCAA without harming any innocent people. Mark Emmert went another direction and decided to sacrifice the entire State College, PA community, essentially for a photo-op. As shows of moral leadership go, this truly was an abject failure.
I understand the emotional nature of this subject and realize this article will receive hate messages. In reading this article, it should be clear the criminals in this case are not being defended. Rather, another is being identified. Please provide comments that advance the conversation citing specific articles, documents, and supporting materials. Please do not make sweeping comments such as, “Clearly you’ve never seen/heard/experienced/had a loved one/child…” Nobody knows what each and every reader and/or commenter of this site has experienced in their lives. I have told friends of mine who support programs other than Ohio State of the 11W site and bragged about its intelligent members and responsible writers/posters. That respect for 11W has been repeatedly confirmed (even by SEC fans!). I look forward to your comments and all I ask is to keep it civil.