Photo: AP Images
The Freeh Report — the damning internal investigation into the many failures of Penn State officials during the Jerry Sandusky scandal — came out this morning.You can see most of the details here, but the biggest takeaway from the horrifying picture painted by the report is this:
The football program itself is responsible.
And as a result, the NCAA should eliminate the program with its so-called “death penalty.”
Over 61 years, Joe Paterno became a one man cult at PSU — taking what was once a football team and turning it into a rogue civilisation with its own structure, authority, and ethical assumptions.
Before Sandusky, this sense of exceptionalism was a point of pride. Penn State was different. It was above the dirt and corruption that defined the rest of college football. It was located in its own, self-contained world where it held itself to a higher standard.
But the Sandusky scandal proved that the morality cultivated in JoePa’s alternate universe wasn’t “elevated” at all.
The Penn State football program was a runaway cult that hardened its structure over decades. And that highly evolved and insular ecosystem was the fertile ground in which Sandusky was allowed to go on molesting kids for more than a decade after PSU officials were made aware of allegations against him.
Think of all the moral differences between our world and the world of Penn State:
In the world of Penn State, the “humane” thing to do after receiving allegations that Sandusky raped a child was to go to Sandusky himself rather than calling the cops.
In the world of Penn State, it was more important to “avoid the consequences of bad publicity,” (as the Freeh report puts it) than to report a potential felony.
In the world of Penn State, buying $400 worth of clothes for a player was a greater offence than molesting kids.
The primary aim was protecting the sanctity of the lucrative, successful football program JoePa built. The conventional morality and authority of the outside world was inconsequential within the program.
So the idea that this scandal has nothing to do with the program is a lie. It had absolutely everything to do with football, because the world that grew out of the football team turned out to be so horrific that it continued to host a sexual predator despite a litany of instances where the mechanisms of the real world would have brought him to justice.
It’s not about a few morally bankrupt, powerful men, it’s about a culture.
Even the janitors were so brainwashed by the cult that they refused to report sexual abuse after they witnessed it first hand. They were too scared about what JoePa would do.
“If that’s the culture at the bottom, God help the culture at the top,” Freeh said this morning.
Penn State football should get the death penalty not just as retribution for what it allowed Sandusky to do, but because Penn State needs to begin the process of assimilating into the wider football world after spending its entire modern history engrossed in the cult of JoePa.
It’s not enough that the powerful men at the centre of the scandal are all fired, imprisoned,or dead. The real culprit — the culture in Happy Valley — is what needs to go. And the only way to do that is by eliminating the cherished cultural centre of the Penn State universe: the football team.
The odds of this happening are small because the NCAA is ill-equipped to deal with scandals that aren’t petty and superfluous. And, admittedly, the NCAA was never designed to make ethical judgements, even if it’s obvious to everyone that the football program was ethically broken.
But killing the football program is the only way Penn State can begin to fix itself.
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