When the NCAA handed down severe punishments to Penn State last July based on the findings of the Freeh Report in relation to the school’s alleged mishandling of Jerry Sandusky, it didn’t feel quite right to us. The NCAA punished the school despite that all who were most involved with the scandal were all gone – Sandusky was convicted in court, the university higher-ups were forced out, and Joe Paterno was dead. It punished the school even though it was doing so based off someone else’s investigation. Plus, the punishments came off as self-serving – the NCAA acting tough for no other reason than to save face publicly.
Taking all that into account, one might expect we’d applaud the decision of the state of Pennsylvania, led by Gov. Tom Corbett, to file a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging the institution overstepped its authority in punishing the school. After all, we agree the NCAA overstepped its authority. You might even think we’d applaud the family of Joe Paterno for praising the suit – or at least the idea of the suit. The family released a statement saying:
“As we have not yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit filed by Governor Corbett today, we cannot comment on the specifics of the litigation. What we do know, however, is that this matter is far from closed. The fact that Governor Corbett now realizes, as do many others, that there was an inexcusable rush to judgment is encouraging.”
But we can’t bring ourselves to praise any of that. Regarding the lawsuit itself: while it raises a valid issue about the NCAA and a potential abuse of power, we can’t look past who’s pushing said lawsuit: Corbett. The same Corbett, you might remember, who many thought took inadequate action in investigating Sandusky when he was Pennsylvania’s attorney general. SI’s Michael McCann even mentions this as a possible defense for the NCAA in fighting the suit (a suit he also, it should be noted, thinks poses some issues for the NCAA). Is Corbett the person we’d want potentially reaping political benefits from calling the NCAA out for vigilantism?
As far as the Paterno family statement: on some level, it’s hard not to sympathize with them, the way they’ve seen the family name dragged through the mud – much of it happening when Joe Paterno was no longer alive to defend his own reputation. But on another level, it still seems twisted, because it puts the focus on self-preservation rather than Sandusky’s repeated victimization of kids.
That was at the heart of every criticism of Penn State after the Sandusky scandal came to light – that the school was focused on protecting Penn State, not kids – and in some way, that same self-serving streak runs through the actions of every party who’s either involved in or reacting to Pennsylvania’s lawsuit. The NCAA punished Penn State to look tough. The state of Pennsylvania sued the NCAA because it believe it leaves Penn State – and, by extension, the state that supports the school – unjustifiably weakened. The Paterno family likes the suit because it offers them another chance to change public perception. Everyone’s primary concern remains looking out for number one, and as long as that’s true, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for any side of this controversy.