Politicians Keep Pandering to Penn State

Instead of humility for the Jerry Sandusky era, our leaders offer arrogance and a snarl.


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.

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  • smokeybandit

    Of course, notably missing from this column is how politicians made this scandal happen to begin with. But it’s more fun to bash Paterno.

  • Tom

    Something horrible happened some of which was related to Penn State. The almost universally admired FORMER coach at Penn State, founder of The Second Mile, ended up being a child molester. There was a hint of something back in 1998 when he was still a coach, but it was investigated by the police and district attorney’s office and he was cleared of any wrong doing. (So, “sure, a Penn State football coach might have molested young boys on campus”, a statement which one can’t say is a false statement, it certainly is not based on any known facts).
    Then there is your “sure it should’ve been reported a decade earlier” statement. What should have been reported? By whom? To whom? Something was reported by a lot of people to a lot of people. It is easy to say IN HINGDIGHT what someone should have done, but unless you have lived a sheltered life, you have to know things aren’t quite that simple in real time. Remember we are talking the universally admired Jerry Sandusky. There were fundraisers, speeches by famous athletes, politicians, etc. I attended one myself in Hershey where Dick Vermeil couldn’t say enough great stuff about good old Jerry.
    Then you take, as gospel, the Freeh report – a report discredited by some pretty credible people, conducted with no subpoena power and without interviewing ANY of the parties involved. Once the report was issued, everything seemed so clear (especially to people like you). Jerry was knowingly welcomed on campus by Joe Paterno, the administration, the football players, the alumni, and the fans, to molest kids because we didn’t want our football program to get a black eye. We did such a great job hiding it that it took the attorney general and a grand jury THREE YEARS to get to the bottom of it and bring charges against good old Jerry.
    Then your conclusion seems to be that since the Sandusky Era is the fault of the Penn State football program, its alumni, fans, and the community, any punishment given to anyone with any ties whatsoever to PSU by anyone, regardless of the authority of the punisher to render the punishment, or the guilt of any of the punishees, or the logic or fairness of the punishment, should just be accepted with humility and we should move on.
    Speaking for myself, an alumni, I don’t want the sanctions loosened or dropped. I want a court to rule they were illegal and inappropriate to begin with. I don’t want the charges against Curley, Schultz, and Spanier dropped, I want the trials to happen and their guilt or innocence to be determined by a jury. I want the allegations made by Freeh’s law firm to be investigated and if determined to be without merit or proof, I want it made public, and if it is determined that he greatly overreached, Freeh sued for everything he is worth by every party involved. Finally I want people like you, who just want to mouth off for “ratings”, “clicks”, “points”, or for whatever reason, without taking any time to learn the facts or even be fair about it, to simply go away.

    • charles Galtenstein

      Yes nothing quite like not wanting to hear unpleasant truths. You just want them to “simply go away”.

      You manage to miss the testimony by Joe Paterno himself as to how he was told of an incident of a “sexual nature” involving a child, and did not pass the information on to the police. You did a great job hiding it because no one reported this to the police. Not Paterno, not Spanier, Schultz, Curely or anyone. Nothing quite turns peoples stomach quite like ignoring what happened to those kids, and turing to the more important things, like football.

      Congratualtions you have answered the question as to why politicians keep pandering to PSU. Because sniveling cretins like yourself seem to give your support to anyone who bows before them. Classy look, you must be so proud

  • grossedoutbyPSUSpaniersupport

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/magazine/the-trials-of-graham-spanier-penn-states-ousted-president.html Read the top comments. Outrage anyone could defend the school admin. Good article Mathis. There does not need to be a trial. These f*ckers put their egos and paychecks ahead of protecting boys from being raped. Rot in hell to them and everyone who defends them.

    • smokeybandit

      Trolls be trollin’

      • Delusional idiot

        And delusional idiots be defending molestation and value the sanctity of college football over the destruction of innocence of a minor.

        • smokeybandit

          Hence my point.

          • Who’s the troll

            It’s not “trolling” when a person points out the facts of the impending trial, the background of the case, and the fanaticism of people that would rather watch college football than acknowledge that a culture of lunacy has erupted all over Happy Valley. Deal with it.

            And you used “hence” incorrectly – you’re interchanging it with consequently; additionally you didn’t have a point. Except I guess, “defend child molesters and maybe we’ll get our football team back.”

          • jwz

            There is a word that applies when a person says we don’t need a trial, we already decided someone is guilty because of (insert brainless reason here). That word would be “lynching.”

            Plenty of you anonymous clowns are all over the internet puffing up your sunken chests talking about how Penn State needs to be further punished– not sure what you consider fair, dropping an atom bomb on State College, finding alumni in nursing homes and throwing them out, digging up the remains of dead alums… All in some bogus claim that Penn State doesn’t care about children as much as you do.

            Here’s some news for you: since November 2011, thousands of children have been abused by parents, parents’ significant others, teachers, other relatives. An alarming number of them have even been killed. What is even sadder is the amazingly low percentage of suspected abuse cases that are never investigated once they are reported to the agencies that the Commonwealth has implemented; agencies that we as citizens of the Commonwealth have entrusted to protect our children.

            Yet you insist that any mention of the roles CCYS, DPW and TSM played in letting Sandusky commit his crimes is an arrogant attempt by Penn Staters to deflect your version of the truth. If you think this is only about one football team and not the failure of a statewide system, you’re sadly mistaken.

            People like you can pretend that keeping Penn State from ever playing in a bowl game, or maybe never playing football again somehow prevents children in Pennsylvania from being abused. Instead of trolling the internet looking for a positive comment about Penn State that you can bash, look around in your own town. There are children there being abused and harmed. What are you doing to stop or prevent that?

  • sackisback

    yes and there is one thing lacking here, it’s called the justice system and being accused without having a trial and facts.This is called rush judgement and usually ends up that the ones that rush judgement eat crow.You trolls do know that louie was not a the judge! This case still is on going and still haven’t broke one ncaa rule to this date. The courts are wondering why the ncaa did what they did, by over stepping. not one law suit has been thrown out and are still pending. You know why? Because people with power misused their power just because they could.

  • sackisback

    Oh and by the way, every body loves to try to tare down a empire. In this case they are failing.

    • Who is failing?

      It’s “tear.” They’d love to “tear down an empire.” You should have focused more on academics, which is where you are failing.

  • Lion In The Midwest

    Interesting how Penn State (Board of Trustees) wants to continue the sanctions. Last time I checked, no one officially associated with the University thinks the sanctions are unfair. I’m not sure how your: Oh, how I wish the politicians of Pennsylvania would stop kissing the ring of Penn State football applies. The University does not want the sanctions reduced. They are getting exactly what they asked for. Maybe you should asked them why everyone else thinks the sanctions are unfair.

  • Scott Banks

    Great Article…Right on the money!


    Joel, like so many other PSU haters, can not accept that fact that PSU football was not destroyed by the NCAA July 2012 attack. All the haters were jumping for joy that day, but now two years later they realize that PSU is coming back very strong. The haters fear additional sanction relief will just speed up the process.

  • tonylion

    If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, Penn Staters should give zero furks what outsiders think or say about Penn State.

    Although it is enjoyable when their thirst to satisfy their hatred of Penn State and Joe Paterno in particular goes unquenched, and the meltdown ensues.