Using the Louis Freeh study as its guide, the NCAA has reached two basic conclusions about Penn State. First, its culture allowed head football coach Joe Paterno to become the most powerful man on campus; and second, Paterno had protected and enabled a serial pedophile for the sake of protecting and enhancing his reputation and his team’s.
With this week’s severe penalties against the university, steps have been taken to guard against something this terrible from happening again.
Among the sanctions: a $60 million fine, a major reduction in football scholarships and a four-year ban on football postseason participation.
But it was another penalty that may send the most powerful and enduring message.
In vacating every Penn State football victory from 1998 through 2011, the NCAA invalidated everything Paternos’ teams had accomplished after the now-deceased coach made the decision to place his own legacy above the safety and well-being of the boys his longtime assistant, Jerry Sandusky, victimized.
Freeh’s investigation determined that Paterno and three other administrators could have put a stop to Sandusky’s crimes as early as 1998. Instead, the four not only covered up the serial pedophilia, but facilitated Sandusky’s activities by allowing him access to university facilities and functions where many of the assaults took place.
As Freeh said, “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.’’
The removal of 111 victories from Penn State’s ledger dropped Paterno from the rank of Division I football’s winningest coach, two days after the university removed his statue from its pedestal outside the school’s football stadium. Paterno’s legacy in major college football history is now categorically and symbolically destroyed.
As NCAA president Mark Emmert declared, “Football will never be put ahead of educating, protecting and nurturing young people.”
One can only hope.