Monday, July 23, 2012

Was Penn State punished enough?

Other than this, we have not blogged about the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.  If one is inclined to believe the Freeh Report--and I think everyone other than perhaps Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno's family believes the Freeh Report--then it is clear that since 1998 Penn State officials knew that Jerry Sandusky was acting inappropriately with children.  Penn State's response to that knowledge was to engage in actions that seemed to designed to cover up Sandusky's behavior rather than report it to the authorities. 

In any event, today Penn State entered into a consent agreement with the NCAA regarding how the school would be punished by the NCAA for how Penn State acted when it learned about Sandusky.  Sports Illustrated reports that the school will be fined $60 million (to be paid to support programs that serve victims of child sexual abuse and seek to prevent such abuse), be banned from postseason football games for four years, lose ten football scholarships per year for four years, and the football team's total scholarship amount cannot exceed 65 for four years.  Also, the school will be on probation for five years.  During the probation period, the NCAA will have the power to continue investigating and impose further sanctions on individuals (although it is not clear whether it will do any further investigating).

Finally, the wins by the Penn State football team between 1998 and 2011 are vacated.  According to the article, this means that Joe Paterno is no longer considered the winningest head coach in NCAA football history.  Yesterday Mr. Paterno had 409 wins.  Today he has 298 wins.  Given how the Paterno family responded when Joe Paterno's statute was removed, I doubt the Paterno family will think vacating the wins is a good idea.

Since at least 2050 B.C., people have struggled to come up with a way of making punishment fit a crime.  For example, the Code of Hammurabi is known for formulating punishment as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," but is actually a lot more complicated than that (taking the eye of a patrician caused the criminal to lose an eye, otherwise it was a fine).  As an aside, check out number 21 of the code, a house burglar is to be killed and buried below the spot where he entered the house.  I wonder if having a burglar buried in the yard caused home values to go up or go down.

Penn State's actions arguably allowed Sandusky to sexually abuse young boys for thirteen years longer than if the school had acted correctly.  Penn State, therefore, is complicit in a monstrous evil.  Yet the whole act of trying to fit a punishment to Penn State's actions results in a very strange math.  Is $60 million enough of a fine?  Does the figure represent $30 million for the two children that Penn State almost certainly knew about?  Or does the figure represent $6 million for the kids that were the focus of the criminal charges against Mr. Sandusky?  If it is the latter figure, then that seems like an insufficient fine (although one should keep in mind that Penn State is already being sued by some of the victims so Penn State may be paying money on those civil cases too).  If there were more victims, would there have been more lost scholarships?   Is there a point to stripping the now-deceased Mr. Paterno of his wins?  It is not like the dead can be punished.  Moreover, do any of these punishments make it more likely that other schools won't engage in the same sort of cover up? 

I understand the NCAA's urge to take action and agree with the general notion that Penn State needs to be punished.  I'm just not entirely sure that the NCAA's actions make sense as a punishment.  However, perhaps this is a situation where fitting the punishment to the behavior is less important than simply making sure that the school is punished.

1 comment:

  1. I have posted some thoughts on this subject over Adam Chorlton's Wisconsin Sports Blog, here and here.


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