Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right
I just wanted to chime in to follow up on a few of Will’s points – and add my own, substantially more enraged, perspective on the Penn State sanctions handed down today.
My first response, as an unabashed partisan of a certain other Big Ten member, is firmly tongue in cheek: the already pathetic “Leaders” division has just gotten even more so. This coming fall, Wisconsin has to navigate the following rogues’ gallery to get to the championship game: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue. Good luck, Badgers. You won’t need it.
Fun and games aside, the reason I’m here is to register my fury at Mark Emmert and the NCAA powers that be.
As everyone who has discussed this topic has felt the need to disclaim, I’ll start by saying that I am a million percent opposed to child rape or the covering up of child rape. I don’t condone anything Joe Paterno did, and I come not to praise, nor even to bury, him. Jerry Sandusky committed horrible crimes. This was an act of unspeakable evil, and Joe Paterno’s complicity in it speaks for itself. I support using the full extent of the law to punish everyone who was associated with the Paterno regime’s blatant disregard for anything like human decency.
That, however, is a separate question from what Mark Emmert has done today. The NCAA exists, if we’re being generous, to ensure the integrity of an amateur sports league. Its remit is to maintain a level playing field for student-athletes. Whatever Penn State has done, and it has done quite a lot, it has manifestly not cheated at football. Emmert, by all accounts, is unable to state which bylaws Penn State has violated, but he assures us that there are some. As Will points out, “lack of institutional control” is essentially the opposite of what happened at Penn State. Not only that, but a freestanding lack of institutional control that leads to no on-field advantages of any kind does not make any sense. For the NCAA to have any kind of jurisdiction, someone needs to have violated the NCAA’s rules. That has not happened.
Fundamentally, there are two things I see going on here. The NCAA is utterly powerless to police its actual jurisdiction. The list of wrongdoers who have gotten away with real cheating, real violations of NCAA rules, is far too long. Penn State, and the others of its ilk, are factories turning out entertainment for the masses on the backs of indentured servants. There is no margin in upsetting the balance, and the NCAA’s only moral authority comes from its ability to rubber stamp the authenticity of an amateur sports league that is anything but. This is, in the words of Spencer Hall, the equivalent of “stabbing a corpse, and then demanding some public recognition of their ersatz bravery”. I, for one, hope we all feel better.
The second thing, and the one that I find infinitely more disgusting, is personal. The NCAA – Mark Emmert – does not want to have to explain why the record books say Joe Paterno is the winningest coach. Their legacy, or whatever tattered shreds remain, cannot be sucked down the rabbit hole of child rape. What a terrible shame that would be. So they need an excuse to erase wins in games in which no one cheated, no on-field advantages of any kind were conferred. The abuse of children, universally acknowledged as one of the very highest, grade-A horrors one human can inflict upon another, is at least a convenient excuse to seize authority where none exists. But, as in all cases, justice predicated on the notion that one specific person might be getting away with something is not any kind of justice at all.
I don’t envy Bill O’Brien the task of holding his football team together. I certainly don’t envy the players, who have done precisely nothing wrong, who are about to have their college football experience mangled beyond recognition. These are people who came to Penn State to be molded and trained by a man Mark Emmert himself called “a terrific example of everything the NCAA stands for“. That man lied to them, covered up a series of horrific crimes, and then left them to foot the bill. Mark Emmert owns the restaurant, and he’s going to make damn sure someone pays that bill.
Maybe this stokes our lust for vengeance and makes us feel better about ourselves. But it isn’t justice.