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Penn State Death Penalty Case May Be Tenuous, But It Feels Increasingly Justified

Penn State’s Sandusky coverup scandal is beyond the NCAA’s purview. The alternate view is Penn State’s scandal is merely beyond anything the NCAA has had to handle. NCAA president Mark Emmert termed the Sandusky coverup “as systemic of a cultural problem as it is a football problem.” He told Tavis Smiley: “We’ll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are,” suggesting that penalties may be forthcoming.

The NCAA getting involved is tricky in this case, as anything short of the death penalty would seem petty and trivial. It could be football death. It could be athletic department death. The case for either, narrowly viewing NCAA bylaws, might be tenuous, but to many, such a penalty will feel increasingly justified.

Preserving Penn State’s $53 million per year football profit machine was the major contributing factor to the Sandusky coverup. This machine has assumed an inertia irrespective to the individuals involved. Even the horrifying revelation, that university officials knew about and did not report Jerry Sandusky raping a child in the football program’s shower facility, did not stop Penn State football. The program barely slowed to jettison its iconic architect Joe Paterno.

This scandal was purportedly bigger than football, yet Penn State football was in no way obstructed. The Nebraska game, mere days afterward, proceeded as scheduled, with a silent prayer only a momentary delay. It fell to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini to provide a voice of reason heard nowhere at Penn State.

I didn’t think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons. My job as a football coach is to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life and that’s what we are. We’re a university system

The situation that’s going on is bigger than football. It’s bigger than that game we just played. It’s bigger than the young men in the game who would have missed it had they called it off.

For Penn State the situation was not bigger than the young men who would have missed it. Penn State kept playing and put them forward as an excuse. Missing Senior Day against Nebraska would have been unfair. Not finishing out their season would have been unfair. It would have been unfair to deny them their trip to the Big Ten Title game had they earned it. Penn State was so toxic to bowl games they fell to the TicketCity Bowl, but declining said invitation to a frivolous exhibition game would have been unfair. The innocent players will be the primary argument should the NCAA try to impose the death penalty.

Purported player concerns, however trivial, trump all decency, because they are a flimsy mask for the true concerns of football obsessed adults. Those profitting, enjoying or administrating are unable or unwilling to even conceive something could derail Penn State football. This intense denial has extended into attempts by the university and the community to address the scandal.

Wagons have circled around depravity. Eight months of exacting analysis in the Freeh Report are discounted. Rationalizations for improper behavior from many surpass all reason. Even removing the statue of a man who conspired to permit a child rapist to run amok for a decade to cover his own ass is too inflammatory for the school to address at this time. A Board of Trustees member suggested it should stay because it celebrated the good things Paterno did, which presumably was not finishing 5-7 every year. Removing the halo on the infamous mural was deemed a significant concession. He had a fucking halo!

These adults feeding this culture are Penn State. They do not get it. They are not going to get it, as long as football proceeds. Left alone, normalcy will return. The normalcy of the foul environment that caused this mess. The obsession with Penn State football transcends a cult of personality. It is an addiction, and one that has engendered a grievous human cost. Forcing “the Penn State family” to go cold turkey from football would be drastic, vengeful and almost certainly unfair, but a silent fall Saturday or twelve might bring things into perspective and break a treacherous cycle.

[Photo via Getty]

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