The site of the Joe Paterno statue, post-removal. Photo via Onward State.
This sort of punishment doesn't happen nearly often enough:
The NCAA has hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998, the organization said Monday morning. The career record of Joe Paterno will reflect these vacated records, the NCAA said.
Penn State also must reduce 10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year for a four-year period.
The NCAA revealed the sanctions as NCAA president Mark Emmert and Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee and Oregon State's president, spoke at a news conference in Indianapolis at the organization's headquarters.
"In the Penn State case, the results were perverse and unconscionable. No price the NCAA can levy will repair the grievous damage inflicted by Jerry Sandusky on his victims," Emmert said, referring to the former Penn State defensive coordinator convicted of 45 counts of child sex abuse last month.
The NCAA said the $60 million was equivalent to the average annual revenue of the football program. The NCAA ordered Penn State to pay the penalty funds into an endowment for "external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and may not be used to fund such programs at the university."
Well, that's refreshing. Anyone watching the halls of power for a significant amount of time expected more of a slap on the wrist in this situation. But it actually seems the NCAA realizes how thin the patience of the public is.
Most of the public, anyway. If you can stomach it, here's Penn State partisans posing beside the statute before its demolition.
But the main thing that's struck me about these punishments is the public reaction of surprise. We're used to seeing people from bankers to cops to politicians largely exempt from any real consequences for their actions, even violent or abusive ones.
Complaints against the NCAA sanctions assert that they harm the school and ruin otherwise-glorious careers. Yes, yes they do. Because that's exactly the point. Defending a child rapist should pretty much end a professional life, and entail a major setback for the organization that allowed it to happen. Not "take away a few bad apples" setback, but "burn it and salt the earth"-style punishment.
"Power corrupts" is an old adage, but power in some form is an inevitable part of human culture. It's more unchecked power that's the issue, and checking power means inflicting consequences when it's misused. Viewed from this angle, it's almost less the corrupt cop or the abusive priest that creates a culture of institutional evil than the otherwise-upstanding colleagues who make excuses for them.
Sure, the positive side of this — instilling an expectation of ethics — is necessary. But relying on people's good is, by itself, is never successful at checking power. Reducing corruption requires creating a precedent that instills some fear the next time someone in authority considers turning a blind eye.
In a better world, the Penn State sanctions wouldn't be a surprise. In this one, they should be only the beginning.