Special Edition: Don’t Punish Penn State, Punish People

Penn State Brandywine © by Jim, the Photographer

I’ll admit upfront that the headline here is a bit of a linkbait, and that you are probably furious at me right now for having the gall to type such a sentence in light of the Freeh report that was released Thursday morning. We all know the horrific details of the Jerry Sandusky case, and I don’t really have the stomach to list out the rape of each child again. Besides, you’re still pissed at me for writing a headline suggesting Penn State shouldn’t be punished. Consider this for a moment.

Pennsylvania State  University didn’t rape those kids, nor did it cover anything up.

Did Penn State President Graham Spanier, Senior VP of Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Coach Joe Paterno (along with that monster, Sandusky himself), cover things up? Apply pressure to ensure the institution was protected? Absolutely. Joe Paterno has lost the respect of pretty much everyone in America, and his legacy isn’t tarnished. It is destroyed. These men are complicit in the destruction of the lives of each of Sandusky’s victims. They should all spend a long, long, long, time in prison.

The instant reaction I saw was fairly predictable. It ranged somewhere between burning Penn State to the ground and destroy all known records of its existence and nuking the institution and destroying all known records of its existence. That’s simply not acceptable. And I include the football program in this argument.

We’re talking about of five men that have defiled one of our country’s greatest institutions. Forget about athletics, PSU is one of the leading academic universities in America. Many people want to destroy what millions of people have helped build over the actions of FIVE people. There must be a strong response, but it MUST be targeted. Kill ’em all is simply a response of anger. Here’s what should happen:

  1. Penn State will have many lawsuits filed against it, as it should. It will attempt to pay for these with revenues derived from the athletic department. It should not be allowed to do that. Pay out of the endowment or whatever other streams of revenue PSU has access.
  2. Anyone with a role in the Sandusky scandal should be fired immediately and turned over to authorities. Period. Again, PEOPLE did this. NOT an institution.
  3. 30-40% of all revenue brought in by Penn State football should be given to charities that deal with sexual abuse/assault of children for the next 15 years. Some will see my opinion as letting PSU off the hook, this helps solve that issue.

As my friend Shelly Kramer points out, it’s likely that more than 5 people covered this up. That’s a very good possibility. To that, I would say each and every one of them need to be prosecuted. The fact that there are still thousands of people at Penn State who had zero part in this cover up lead me to believe that severe sanctions should be placed on PSU, but none that can absolutely cripple it. At that point, we’re punishing Penn State to make ourselves feel better as a society rather than targeting the punishment to where it is deserved. A message must be sent to all institutions of higher learning that they are ultimately responsible to the people they serve. Not to themselves.

There are sexual assault scandals at every university in America. I guarantee it. If we target punishment to individuals, anyone complicit in covering up other scandals at universities receives a much more important message. Your institution will be punished, but you will suffer. You will have your life ripped away from you the same way you’ve ripped away the lives of others. I agree that we need to send a strong message. Just make sure it’s being sent to the right people.


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  • You are absolutely on the mark with this, Matt. This entire episode is about individuals acting badly. Punish THEM, and let the school, as an entity, alone.

    Those individuals who ARE responsible have earned and deserve the most severe punishment permissible under the U.S. legal system.

    I wish drawing-and-quartering was still a viable option. ‘Nuff said.

  • Matt LaCasse

    I’ll be happy to respond to comments, but just so you know I’m pretty busy this afternoon and evening. Please comment, and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you…for the most part. What’s missing is a wholesale change in the culture of the Penn State athletic department and its leadership that allowed this to happen. Instead of focusing on revenues and the importance of the program, their focus needs to be on people and helping them achieve their lifelong goals and dreams. Had they been focused there I doubt this would have happened. I thought I saw some of this change when they released statements after the verdict. I hope it continues. What a horrible incident. I hope everyone has learned a valuable lesson about when to call the cops!

    • Matt LaCasse

      I agree Mary. I think if we hold accountable every person involved in this situation, the focus will change naturally. I just can’t get past the feeling that by dropping a bomb on the school that it’s more for us as society feeling better than actually addressing the situation.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with you. Dropping a bomb just makes us feel better. It doesn’t solve the problem. It’s my hope the Trustees are “forcing” a change in culture and I think they are. But then I saw and SI article stating they changed the TV channel in the Student Center just as coverage of the Freeh report started. (http://tracking.si.com/2012/07/12/penn-state-students-tv-freeh-report/) Of course, that could have been one over zealous employee too.

  • THANK YOU! As a Penn Stater, I appreciate seeing blog posts of this nature rather than those condemning the institution as a whole. We’re all distraught to know that men we respected and trusted failed to do the right thing in order to protect innocent children. The actions of these horrible few do not reflect our university.

    • Lauren as a follower of this story and a Big Ten fan in general it seems that all Penn Staters have been grouped into a single lot. That is unfair and illogical to do. Personally the people who covered it up should be prosecuted and If JoePa were still alive that would include him too. However the good students past and present shouldn’t have to carry this burden for those few. Penn State has an amazing record for philanthropic work around the world. This story will tarnish Penn State but really we should be focusing the ones involved. Hopefully quickly people will move away from blaming the Penn Staters and only remember the disgusting deeds of a few.

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  • Michael

    I’m wondering why you feel the need to admonish the universe on whom to “target.” Your observations of “burn it to the ground and destroy all records…” may have been real or perhaps you are employing some literary license. Both of my children graduated from PSU within the last four years, so I have made it a point to try to read everything I could find on the subject– blogged and posted, written and spoken. I have yet to find any responsible, credible person advising that Penn State be burned to the ground. Your post was the first to mention it. For someone who is advising against anger, you seem to have a fair amount of vitriol just beneath the surface. As for Joe Paterno, I always had serious concerns about Joe’s almost blind support of folks like George W. Bush and his ilk but after following his career since 1967, I believe Paterno is a man who stayed too long and was faced with something with which many 85 year olds would struggle. I just finished reading Joe Posnanski’s “Paterno.” You may want to give it a look. Posnanski wrote it over the last 5 months of Paterno’s life, had complete access to Paterno, his records, and his family, According to Posnanski, Paterno and his family only issued him one mandate– tell the truth as he found it.