*When a stock broker steals your car, you don’t call agents at the SEC who are supposed to moniter financial trading.
If an ecological scientist sets your house on fire, you don’t go to the EPA and ask them to assess her lab’s quality.
A butch beating someone to a pulp does not justify the FDA being summoned to investigate the cleanliness of the knives in his shop.
In each of these instances the offense was criminal in nature and should have been handled by the local district attourney. And yet in the case of the rape of children by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, somehow an additional governing body, the NCAA, felt the need to go outside their area of expertise to punish those peripherally associated with the location of the crime.
That this scenario of events played out is problematic on at least two levels. First because the NCAA exists to sanction athletic events between colleges (and universities). The National Collegiate Athletic Association is primarily concerned with making sure student athletes are actually students in good standing when they compete. In some instances the NCAA has investigated and sanctioned entire schools or athletic departments but always from the perspective of: are the people on the field/court/pool/etc. really students.
Over the years schools have had instances of theft, rape, even murder in which athletes were involved in some capacity. And the NCAA stayed out of the picture. The fact that the NCAA felt it necessary to get involved in this incident in Penn State is puzzling and troublesome because it means an unwarranted expansion of its authority.
Secondly, because the NCAA is about student eligibility, its ability to punish is limited to affecting how students participate in sports. Consequently even though no athletes were involved in wrongdoing at Penn State, fewer athletes will be able to participate in football there. The NCAA’s punishment targets and punishes the wrong people, furthering the victimization.
Normally when faced with a situation in which the wrong police, with no real jurisdiction, stretch the interpretation of rules, to penalize the wrong people, there would be universal outrage. But this is not the case. In fact there is little negative perspective on what the NCAA as decided outside of Penn State football fans. This is because the injustice being perpetrated on the Penn State football program is dwarfed by the injustice experienced by the child victims of sexual assault. As a society we cherish the safety of children (as we should) because in many ways they are unable to defend themselves. So when their safety is jeopardized, logic does not always dictate how the guilty are punished.
In theory I am okay with this. It’s generally fine to go overboard in keeping kids safe. But forgive me if I find the particulars of this case distasteful.
The shame of it is that it didn’t have to be this way. The NCAA could have stayed out of the situation and extra punishment could have been meted out.
The correct chain of events would have been for the Penn State administration to drop the hammer on itself. The school paid for an internal investigation and report that pointed the finger at specific individuals and a culture on campus that allowed for a cover-up of sexual assault. This report is what the NCAA used in determining their punishment. Penn State should have disciplined those responsible for the cover-up and used money to set up an endowment to combat child rape. Essentially Penn State could have done approximately what the NCCA did but with legitimacy.
Penn State was/is in a position to better know who to hold responsible and could have avoided the targeting of the football program at large. But doing that would’ve taken more courage and self reflection than the Penn State administration was willing to display.
The football program/culture deserved to be diminished. But by passing the buck Penn State has allowed the program to vulnerable for the next decade.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.
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