By Paul Goldman and Lowell Feld
Increasingly, in the wake of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s devastating report on the Penn State University football/sexual abuse scandal, we’re hearing calls for the NCAA to shut down Penn State University’s once-lauded, now utterly disgraced (possibly soon to be in ruins), football program.
Whether or not the so-called “death penalty” — or lesser sanctions, for that matter — is imposed by the NCAA on the PSU football program, there’s a question that hits close to home for Virginia right now. Namely, should UVA cancel its scheduled (9/8) mens’ home football game with Penn State now, and not wait for the NCAA to make up its mind?
In the wake of the botched firing, then rehiring, of UVA’s president, Teresa Sullivan, largely over issues related to money (e.g., for-profit education), perhaps it’s time for Thomas Jefferson’s “academical village” to take a stand based on what’s right morally, not just financially. And let’s not forget, there’s a huge amount of money at stake when it comes to Division I college men’s football — wagering on playoffs alone amounting to $6 billion. Which makes this even a more true test of morality: whether or not you do the right thing even though there’s a huge amount to lose by doing so!
In the end, Penn State might very well be forced to cancel its football games this season, including the one with UVA in early September. Meanwhile, though, how about UVA’s leadership take a stand on principle, demonstrating to the world that its #1 priority is kids, not cash?
Here’s a question: Do you really think Penn State should be playing football this year, given the Freeh Report voluminous evidence of systematic abuse, as well as a massive coverup, up and down the Penn State system? Hell No: and rightly so.
True, only a handful of people knew the terrible truth about what was being covered up at Penn State. Furthermore, those playing football now at Penn State are not personally culpable in any way and should be treated accordingly (e.g., all should keep their football scholarship, all should be allowed to transfer to another football program if they’d like to with no penalty).
In many ways, the Penn State scandal is a fair test of where our values as a nation truly lie. In the life of a country, certain events take on a far larger meaning. There is no scientific formula to predict when this situation will arise. But clearly, the Penn State football scandal is one of those moments.
This scandal is a look inside our collective national psyche. True, the vast majority of people at PSU had neither knowledge nor culpability of this terrible situation. And yes, canceling the 2012 football schedule can be attacked as a purely “feel-good” symbolic gesture that neither changes the past nor is connected to preventing the problem in the future, indeed in any way atones.
That is all true except for the larger and more important truth: shutting down the PSU football program is an action that not only will command the attention of the country, but will make a point we Americans desperately need to make to ourselves. In the final analysis, football is a just a game, albeit an extremely lucrative one; life is not.
The Achilles Heel of any society was captured by Bob Dylan when he wrote, “how many ears does it take before you can hear people cry?” Over the many years, we have heard, albeit too slowly, the cries of so many whose pleas for justice fell on deaf ears. But we have begun to hear: and we have now come too far to turn back now.
By the happenstance of the cycles of public affairs, America needs to make it clear the actions of top leaders in our society – such as those at Penn State – are completely unacceptable.
America needs to take a firm stand: We will not, cannot, must not, devalue the lives of any of our children, even when – especially when! – huge amounts of money, power, (false) hero worship and out-of-control sports mania are involved.
Right now, America, not only Penn State, is in denial: We are devaluing the lives of all our children by our failure to demonstrate a moral outrage at what has happened there. These kids are all our children. They needed and deserved to be protected from sexual predators, but they were not, to the shame of everyone who failed to act as it if the child was their own child. Today, morality requires that our society at least provide some sort of justice, some sort of punishment, some sort of sign that the moral order has been restored, if anything good is to come out of this cesspool of depravity.
So far with this scandal, we have not been living up to what America’s value system, and America’s greatness as a nation, demand. Here in Virginia, we have an opportunity to help turn this situation around by making a statement right now. In that regard, the University of Virginia – which, incredibly, almost hired none other than Jerry Sandusky as its head coach in 2002! – is scheduled to play Penn State in Virginia on September 8, on national TV no less (and what do you think the conversation’s going to be about leading up to THAT broadcast; perhaps UVA should think about that, because it ain’t going to be pretty). UVA President Teresa Sullivan and the school’s Board of Visitors need to cancel the game if Penn State will not, if for no other reason to protect the school from yet another public relations’ debacle, or better yet to demonstrate that UVA stands up for what’s right morally, no matter the cost (just imagine the POSITIVE publicity for UVA leadership flowing out of making the correct call morally in this situation).
Life is a contact support for our children, far more so than it should be in many cases, certainly in the case of the PSU football scandal. Today, Virginia needs to show we are in contact with that reality, can be trusted with the responsibility, and are ready and able to rise to the occasion this situation demands. Cancel the game!