Oh, how I wish the politicians of Pennsylvania would stop kissing the ring of Penn State football.
The king — Joe Paterno — may be dead, but the kingdom is very much alive. A quick Google News search for “Penn State” turns up headline after headline about new coach James Franklin and speculation about the forthcoming 2014 football season. That might not be so unusual — it’s late July, practices are about to begin — except that the results of that page are similarly football-heavy all year round, whether the season’s around the corner or not.
Now, Google News merely reflects the output of journalists. But that journalistic output suggests that reporters covering the university know what their audience cares about. It’s not the famed library — except as proof of the saintliness of the former coach — and it’s not really even that Penn State is now ranked in the top 50 among the world’s top universities.
In Happy Valley, it turns out, they are always ready for some football.
And the politicians know this. Which is (presumably) why five members of the state’s 18-member Congressional delegation this week banded together and asked the NCAA to cut short Penn State’s four-year bowl ban and accompanying sanctions.
What’s striking about the letter — which was signed by Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills), Charlie Dent (R-Lehigh), Mike Kelly (R-Butler), Glenn Thompson (R-Howard) and Jim Gerlach (R-Chester) — is its utter lack of humility. Sure, a Penn State football coach might’ve molested young boys on campus — even buying off a victim’s silence with a pair of Joe Paterno’s famous white socks — and sure, it should’ve been reported about a decade earlier. But that’s no reason not to be pugnacious in defense of your favorite football team!
“Continuing these unprecedented sanctions harms innocent student athletes” the congressmen wrote, “and further erodes the increasingly specious credibility of the organization.”
Hey: I’m no fan of the NCAA. I’m willing to bet the organization — as we know it — is no longer in existence in five years or so. It has exploited student-athletes and made hundreds of millions of dollars doing so. When it collapses, I’ll dance on its ruins.
Still, given the reason for the sanctions — a lot of kids’ lives were ruined, remember — a little humility might’ve been in order when approaching the NCAA and asking for a break. Maybe some talk about lessons learned and a list of actions taken to mitigate the chances of a second Jerry Sandusky scandal would be in order.
Instead, we get pure arrogance:
“Your organization, for the moment, is the sole arbiter of conduct in college athletics,” the congressmen wrote. “Surely there is enough to be done in reforming the NCAA’s due process standards without injecting the organization into a purely criminal matter.”
It’s enough to make you want to double the sanctions instead.
This is nothing new. Pennsylvania politicians have spent the last few years pandering to the many Penn State fans (by no means all of them) who seem to think the university was the biggest victim of Jerry Sandusky. Gov. Corbett sued the NCAA and lost. The state legislature is mired in its own battle, trying to ensure that the $60 million NCAA fine stays in the state instead of being spent elsewhere.
With the exception of Kathleen Kane’s deeply flawed investigation into Gov. Corbett’s conduct — as well as the passage of a minor law or two — it’s safe to say that far more of the state’s political energy has been spent in recent years defending and advocating for Penn State football than has been spent trying to correct the horrible sins we associate with that program.
And, well: Shame on all of us for that.
When he delivered the results of his now-infamous investigation into the Sandusky affair, former FBI Director Louis Freeh was careful to spread the blame around: To Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, and Graham Spanier, yes, but also to everybody who loved Penn State football a little too much. The crimes were enabled, he said, by “a culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.”
Freeh added: “It is up to the entire University community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and the administration — to undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture.”
Three years later, the state’s top politicians are still pandering to that culture, doing it on our behalf, and doing it with a snarl. It makes you wonder if anybody really learned anything at all.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.