More than 400 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote these memorable lines: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.”
The lines are from “Julius Caesar” (Act III, Scene 2) in the funeral oration of Mary Antony. Readers of a certain age perhaps more easily will remember Antony’s opening words: “Friends, Romans, country men, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men …”
Mark Antony’s words have again come to mind as Penn State University and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, known as the NCAA, rushes to move forward from the horrific and unprecedented child sex abuse scandal. Jerry Sandusky, the former coach who abused several boys – some at the university – is convicted and awaits sentencing.
Former federal judge and FBI director Louis Freeh, commissioned by Penn State to conduct an investigation, found that high-ranking university officials, including coaching icon Joe Paterno, covered up allegations against Sandusky.
We may never know exactly what the late coach did, but even the most ardent fans of “JoPa” and the Nittany Lions should conclude that Paterno did not do what he should have done to bring Sandusky to justice many years ago. It certainly was not enough to remove Sandusky from the football program.
Following the Freeh report a few days ago, the NCAA moved with unusual speed to slap harsh penalties on Penn State (a four-year bowl ban, $60 million fine) and erase 14 years of Paterno’s victories. The latter action means the late coach no longer has the most victories in top-level college football. The problem is that Penn State players, under coach Paterno, did in fact win those games.
In one of the many conversations that followed the penalty – it could have been on television, I simply don’t remember – someone asked, “How do you punish the institution without punishing the players?” Valid point. The bigger question perhaps is how does stripping a decreased coach of 14 years of victories do anything positive for the ultimate victims, the young boys? Taking away the game wins seems only to create more angst for Penn State fans, players and coaches.
Erasing football games from the record – because of action or inaction off the field – is attempting to rewrite history. Changing factual records of any kind is generally a bad idea.
Make no mistake, the NCAA penalties on Penn State are tough. Detractors of big-time college sports will say not tough enough. Even to PSU, $60 million is a hefty fine and the four-year bowl ban will cost Penn State its share of other Big Ten Conference bowl revenue, perhaps $13 million. Moreover, Penn State loses a significant number of scholarships for the four years. Penn State football will be at a decided disadvantage, although far away from the impact that a so-called death penalty would have. Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press reports that Southern Methodist University football is still recovering 25 years after the NCAA shut down the program for a year.
Penn State removed the campus statue of Paterno – and I hope put it away in a warehouse. The decision probably was in the best interest of the university and not a short-sighted response to hysterical demands of well-meaning folks who think they can rewrite history.
Penn State and all universities, large and small, must have all athletic programs under the control of their trustees and chief executives. All universities must take firm action, if necessary, to ensure that all coaches, deans, department heads, administrators follow the law in reporting suspected crimes.
In a serious way, Joe Paterno let down his many fans, and the university and players he loved. That said, JoPa’s shortcomings should not erase all of his accomplishments over several decades – by all accounts he did most things the right way.
Bad things do happen to good people – illness, loss of jobs, every sort of tragic event – and good, even great, people do some bad things – by commission or omission.
Shakespeare had it right. Joe Paterno’s evil will live on. Officially erasing 14 years of football victories does not change the fact that his players won those games – without regard for whatever wrong the late coach did.
Contact Schumacher, a member of The Sun News editorial board, at firstname.lastname@example.org.