The following editorial appeared in The Washington Post on July 24:
The NCAA’s punishment of the Penn State football program, announced Monday, broke all the rules. That’s good.
The Penn State program has been embroiled in scandal since a grand jury indicted former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in November on numerous counts of sexually abusing young boys. Typically, the NCAA would conduct its own investigation, give an accused university 90 days to respond and hold a hearing. In this case, Penn State’s trustees commissioned an independent inquiry, and former FBI chief Louis Freeh delivered a devastating account of institutional corruption so entrenched that it held a football program as more precious than vulnerable children. Those revelations changed everything, and rightly so.
As the association’s president, Mark A. Emmert, announced Monday morning: “We cannot look to NCAA history to determine how to handle circumstances so disturbing, shocking and disappointing. As the individuals charged with governing college sports, we have a responsibility to act.”
The NCAA came up with a punishment more appropriate than the so-called “death penalty,” which would have banned football for at least a year. Students who aren’t to blame for the scandal will still get to play football, but the team will be barred from postseason bowl games for four years. The program will be fined $60 million, equivalent to one year of football revenue, and that money will go to victims of sex abuse and abuse prevention. The association also mandated the erasure of all Penn State football victories between 1998 and 2011 — a move aimed at what Mr. Emmert called “the ‘sports are king’ mind-set.”
That mind-set — in which, to use Mr. Emmert’s words, “sports themselves can become too big to fail, too big to challenge” — enabled a conspiracy of silence around Mr. Sandusky’s long-lasting crime spree.
Although the NCAA still manages a network of programs that too often privilege revenue over the well-being of student-athletes, this was a long-overdue statement on the unhealthy obsession with sports that can cloud the better judgment of those involved.
As if to underscore that message, Penn State removed on Sunday the statue of Joe Paterno, the late head football coach who turned a blind eye to allegations against Mr. Sandusky. At more than 900 pounds and seven feet tall, the statue is a testament to the power and might of the “sports are king” mind-set.
Let’s hope that dismantling it is the first step as well in toppling the culture that produced it.