Jerry Sandusky got whacked in the face. He deserved it. Thirty to 60 years in prison isn’t nearly enough for what he did, but he will die in jail. And that is how it should be.
Everybody who covered for him at Penn State got whacked in the face as well, or they are in the process of it. They deserved it too. Joe Paterno got his legacy dumped on, the former athletic director, president and vice presidents of the University and others have, in some combination, lost their jobs, their dignity and are being hit with civil and criminal charges.
You know who else got whacked in the face? Penn State football. And they are the only ones who didn’t deserve it.
This week, one year ago, Sandusky was indicted and arrested for multiple counts of child sex abuse. After months of investigations, new developments, trials, hearings, meetings, etc., the NCAA delivered unprecedented punishments to the Penn State football program, including tons of lost scholarships, a four-year bowl ban and a $60 million penalty.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said “that the sports themselves can become too big to fail — indeed, too big to even challenge.”
He made the point that the success and tradition of Penn State football, as well as sports as a whole have become such a proud piece of our identity that we are all guilty of negligence and excuse-making. And he was right. So what can you do to prove a point? What can you do hammer home the idea that, as a culture, we have to make a stand against our own love of sports and show we are capable of punishing something we all have so blindly beloved (whether it be Penn State football or any homage to athletics)?
The argument here isn’t that the punishments to Penn State’s football program were unjust. Hell, they might have been the only thing that could have been done. You can cut a lot out from under a man with taking their job, their freedom, their money. But when you take a swing at something they protected so much, they defended so heartily and inexcusably (their football program), you truly hurt them. So I see the thought process.
But for brand-new head coach Bill O’Brien and his players, who had nothing to do with the sickness of Sandusky, it really sucks. They were the unfortunate end of the leverage used to make a point that needed to be made and they couldn’t do anything about it.
Scholarship losses and the allowance of players to transfer meant the roster was picked over like a carcass by other schools. Penn State football lost its star tailback, the leading receiver, one of its quarterbacks, a starting linebacker, the kicker along with a litany of other starters and reserves as well as a lot of commits.
O’Brien hadn’t even coached a game yet and his depth chart was bled out, his team the subject of rough punishments and the misplaced ire of a lot of America.
You know what Penn State football did though? They said “we don’t give a damn.” And they have played football. More surprisingly, they have played it well.
The Nittany Lions, faced with a brick wall between them and success, have climbed.
After they lost their first two games of the 2012 season, the Nittany Lions seemed doomed to fit the fate of the punishments dealt to them.
Wrong. Penn State went on a five-game winning streak before falling to Ohio State on Oct. 27. But PSU bounced back with a victory over Purdue this past week and currently stand at 6-3 with a conference record of 4-1.
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 18 scores with just three picks. Senior linebacker and unquestioned leader of the team, Mike Mauti, has three interceptions and 83 total tackles (40th in the whole country).
PSU isn’t eligible to play in the Big 10 Championship as part of its postseason ban, but Penn State could finish the season with the second-best record in the entire conference.
“Sports themselves can become too big to fail — indeed, too big to even challenge.”
NCAA President Emmert was right that sports tend to trump all, and sadly, trumped the protection of young people in the case of those responsible for the horror surrounding Sandusky.
But I think the Penn State football program may have seen it from a different angle – that the team in blue and white from State College will not fail, even when challenged.
They took it, they took it all. And they kept playing football. Finally, something Penn State can be proud of again.