Yesterday, the Freeh Report was released on the actions of Penn State University related to the child sexual abuse committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The independent report’s findings (starting on page 14) offer a sickening view of the apathy, ignorance, and blatant disregard for the safety and welfare of children. The main priority of “four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University” (President Graham Spanier, SVP Gary Schultz, AD Timothy Curley, and Head Coach Joe Paterno) was protecting the reputation of PSU, the football program, and/or their own skin.
Absolutely sickening. All of it.
In the 17 pages of recommendations for campus leadership, the Board of Trustees, the Athletic Department and others (starting on page 117), nothing is mentioned about penalties for the football program.
Not to worry, as pundits and columnists everywhere are lining up to dish out an “appropriate” punishment to Penn State’s legendary football program. I would not be surprised to see an investigation from the NCAA and/or the Big Ten Conference which leads to sanctions of some kind.
Proposed punishments include loss of athletic scholarships, bans on TV appearances and bowl games, a complete “death penalty” – shuttering the program for a year or more, to being kicked out of the prestigious Big Ten Conference entirely.
And I think all of these suggestions are wrong.
Don’t get me wrong – I sincerely believe that Penn State should be punished. Call it what you want – cover-up, conspiracy, abuse of power, absence of a conscience – very bad things were allowed to happen to innocent children because people who knew better did nothing. I’m no lawyer, but with the release of the Freeh report, the university is going to have to pay out tens of millions of dollars in settlements to Sandusky’s victims, which PSU should. But that still does not appropriately punish the school for their enabling and protecting a monster to prey on children.
But here’s the thing – the punishments listed above miss their target in two ways: 1) they punish the wrong people, and 2) little is done to aid and benefit victims, bring awareness, and prevent future Sanduskys from leaving such a wide wake of destruction. Look – I know that since actions of Paterno and PSU senior leadership were done – in full or in part – to protect the prestige and reputation of Penn State Football, the football program should pay a price. But I think there is a better way to punish PSU than to deny scholarships to student-athletes, hurt the revenue of the schools PSU would play in televised games, or kill all intercollegiate athletics at PSU (which is essentially what a death penalty would do). No Penn State student has been implicated in the cover up, so punishing the student-athletes is unfair. There is a better way.
Here is my plan:
1. Penn State can have all of their football games broadcast on which ever network (ABC/ESPN, BTN, etc) chooses to air the game. However, for a set period of time (I’m proposing four years) 100% of Penn State’s television and bowl revenue is donated to charities and funds that work to protect children, heal victims, and prevent sexual predators like Sandusky from harming a child*. This way Penn State’s opponent still receives their full share of TV revenue, it gives the announcers a platform to discuss Penn State’s punishment, and provides a wealth of funds (Big Ten schools get around $20 million a year in TV revenue from all sports).
*I am proposing this as a separate revenue source from the one PSU will use to pay settlements to those victimized by Sandusky. The Freeh Report all but guarantees very big paydays for Sandusky’s victims, and Penn State should find that money in-house, and not on the backs of their student-athletes.
Yes, this is a significant loss of revenue, and since football feeds the rest of the athletic department, it will very likely have a negative impact on the Olympic and non-revenue producing sports that Penn State offers. But there is no way around it.
2. Penn State has an iconic football look: the dark blue jerseys, the plain white helmet with the single blue stripe down the middle. That helmet is timeless, classic, and the ideal spot for one of these:
I propose placing a blue Prevent Child Abuse awareness ribbon each side of Penn State’s football helmet. Permanently.
I can understand that some would find it hypocritical that Penn State would use the blue child abuse awareness ribbon on their helmets after doing nothing to prevent child abuse for well over a decade. But the days of Paterno and senior leadership covering for the football program and the university are over.
Like it or not, Penn State football will forever be associated with child abuse. PSU can either hide from their stained legacy, sweep it under the rug, and pretend it never happened (much like Paterno and company did)…or…Penn State can be a leader, on the field and in the classroom, and make child abuse prevention their mission. Embracing that mission is one of the precious few ways that Penn State can begin to atone for what was allowed to occur, and have any chance of turning an extremely negative time into a positive outcome. And having a graphical icon of that mission – in the form of the awareness ribbon – on Penn State’s football helmets will remind students, alumni, staff, fans, and the nation of responsibility we all bear to report any suspected abuse to authorities until action is taken.
The faith of the students, alumni, and general public in all things Penn State (the university, its senior leadership, and its athletic teams and coaches) has been rightfully erased. It will take years and years for Penn State to regain it. The best way to regain that trust is to acknowledge and own past failures and make giant steps to provide retribution for those who are impacted – directly and indirectly. I feel my plan does this.
Penn State, the ball is in your court.