Let me start with a disclaimer by saying that I know very little about American Football (or Canadian). I also know little about football politics, or the NCAA.
I am a relative newcomer to North America and one who was raised on a diet of rugby, I find football a difficult game to follow, understand or get excited about. I am sure that had I been exposed to the game and its star sportsmen from an early age I would think differently.
Rugby is the original game played with an oval ball, no protective gear and substitution on the field only in the case of a player being sufficiently injured that he could not continue.(Rugby was a strictly male only sport then, none of these attractive girls in underwear made-for-tv spectacles). Frivolity aside. It says a lot for gender equality in sport that serious women’s rugby, (not the lingerie league) is becoming increasingly popular and well-played. Our Canadian ladies won the 2011 IRB Women’s Rugby 7s World Cup.
Rugby was also a strictly amateur sport in those days, no large pay cheques meant far less prima-donna behaviour from highly paid celebrity athletes.
Although I might not have developed a great interest in football, my long and interesting life has exposed me to enough experiences, good, bad and sometimes absolutely horrifying, that I have developed a sense of what is fair and reasonable. A sense of when punishment is appropriate, likely to serve the course of justice and in the interests of society, or when it seems more likely to serve some political, vindictive or revenue generating agenda.
Despite not being an enthusiastic football fan, it is always exciting to learn of the success of any good sports team, I had certainly heard that Penn State was one of the best college teams and its late coach Joe Paterno one of the most respected in the country. Like most responsible people, I was saddened at the allegations of sexual abuse and the cover-ups thereof that surfaced. These are being dealt with by the justice system and the perpetrators of the abuse deserve all the punishment they are likely to get. It is not my intention to pass any further comment on those incidents.
Where I do have a huge problem – and I may be jumping the gun here – but I am responding to news released today, is that Penn State is being fined $60 million, it will lose some scholarships and all its victories from 98 to 2011 “vacated”. I assume vacated means cancelled, disqualified or withdrawn.
Now as I understand it, Penn State is an institution made up of brick and mortar buildings, various resources for transferring knowledge and teaching academic, artistic and athletic skills to students. It may or may not be a for profit corporation and it has academic, administrative and athletic and other, staff. As I also understand it, any personnel facing allegations of misconduct, abuse or cover up have been, are being or will be dealt with by the justice system. If the structure was such that a for profit corporation’s profits were directly tied to the football teams success on the field, there might be some tenuous justification for a fine.
The football teams victories in the period 1998 to 2011, were accomplished, unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, fairly and quite possibly contributed to by students who were themselves victims of abuse. There are no allegations that any of those victories were a result of cheating, use of banned substances, fielding disqualified or unqualified players. All the normal reasons for disqualification.
So what is the point in punishing the institution, its innocent, past, current and future players and students. While the providers of funds for scholarships have every right to withdraw funding, this could mean denying worthy students an education. Where does the $60 million go to? Is this a case of power-hungry sports administrators playing God and playing to the chorus of social media critics?
Just as crippling fines on small businesses because an employee was hurt in an accident (often from his own stupidity or failure to follow instructions) can destroy jobs, vindictive action against a university can create even more victims than the original crimes.
Many will argue that “Insurance will pay” and it is a sad commentary on our system that financial penalties are often based on what the insurer will or can pay, not on the severity of the crime (real or imagined) or the assets or lack thereof of the alleged perpetrator.
In the long run it doesn’t matter who pays, vindictive fines cost all of us more somewhere down the track, either in increased insurance premiums, or in the case of a university, fewer scholarships or lower grade teaching staff. In the case of a sports team, a reduced ability to attract top coaches and players.
So for this simple-minded old baby boomer who thought he had a handle on right and wrong, that the punishment should fit the crime and not create more victims, I find this vindictive and scalp hunting judicial system in North America somewhat different. A symptom of political correctness gone mad, a refusal to recognise that there are such things as accidents and sometimes no one is guilty. Sad that when an acutely sensitive area is involved, like sexual abuse, race, legal gun ownership or wealth, normal standards of justice and common sense seem to go out the window. The hype and over-reaction provoke the law of unintended consequences.
Nothing in the previous few paragraphs should infer that I have any sympathy for those charged, convicted or still to be charged for the abuse and cover up at Penn State, my comments are directed at the severe punishment of the institution itself and that this action will create yet more victims from a sad chapter in its history.
Wishing you success and fair justice in all your endeavours.