Like many people, I was surprised about the severity of the NCAA’s punishment against Penn State for the university’s apparent attempts at covering up Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys in campus facilities. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that child sexual abuse is incredibly cruel. It creates emotional wounds that often torment victims for the rest of their lives. I just felt that the NCAA went beyond attempting to right wrongs by accomplishing to do something that is not humanly possible–rewriting history.
That’s right. In addition to the expected sanctions including $60 million in fines, a 4-year ban from bowls, a cap on scholarships, and a strong incentive for current players to transfer, the NCAA tried to rewrite history by taking away all of Penn State’s winning games from 1998 to 2011. Those 111 games are now considered losses. Needless to say, a lot of people within the Penn State community are unhappy right now, but not for the selfish reasons people expect.
While it may be clear that top officials at the university (including current Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett who now seems to be downplaying his role at the time) failed in their duty to protect Sandusky’s victims, the Penn State community still contains thousands upon thousands of faculty, staff, students, and alumni who had no part in the cover up. All they did was celebrate with their team in victory and support their team through defeat.
Now these same members of the Penn State community are being told that their fond memories of won games and championships have been rendered nonexistent–at least in the official records of the NCAA. Football players who spent countless hours working with Joe Paterno (and were likely freaked out once the truth about Sandusky came out in court) are now being told that their individual hard work and contributions did not matter because their team never won a game even though many still have championship rings to prove otherwise.
Adam Taliaferro’s tweet in response to the sanctions summed it up best when he said:
NCAA says games didn't exist..I got the metal plate in my neck to prove it did..I almost died playing 4 PSU..punishment or healing?!? #WeAre
— Adam Taliaferro (@Tali43) July 23, 2012
I couldn’t read his statement without feeling his pain. All of his Penn State football years took place in the time period when all wins have now been reclassified as losses. Still, the NCAA ruling can do nothing to undo the injury that left him temporarily paralyzed as a result of playing for Penn State or the countless hours of frustrating rehab he faced in order to walk again.
It is not my goal to deny the suffering of Sandusky’s victims. My heart goes out to them everyday. I sincerely hope that they get the support they need from their families and their surrounding communities. After all, they are also residents of the Happy Valley area and members of the Penn State community. Nevertheless, I feel the NCAA’s attempt at rewriting history is nothing more than an emotional attack on the people who weren’t responsible for the cover-up.
Detractors seem so happy that Joe Paterno’s legacy has forever been tarnished, but the reality is that Joe Paterno is dead and is unable to speak for himself. (I personally feel it’s a good thing that Joe Paterno is dead because the kind of malicious things that are being said about him right now would have killed him. That’s another story for another time.) Graham B. Spanier, Gary C. Schultz, and Timothy M. Curley who have also been labeled as conspirators are no longer affiliated with Penn State. Unfortunately, their actions (or collective inaction with respect to complaints about Sandusky) will haunt Penn State and college athletic programs for generations to come.