New Castle News

July 25, 2012

Our Opinion: Penn State penalties show benefits of dealing with problems appropriately

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — As scorn and punishment continue to be heaped upon Penn State University, a question lingers:

What truly has been learned in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal?

Penn State personnel — those left to pick up the pieces — can expect extended reminders of the university’s gross failure in leadership. This week’s penalties issued by the NCAA on the school’s football program are just the tip of the iceberg. As we have written previously, the full cost of the Sandusky travesty has yet to be assessed.

Not only are there state and federal criminal investigations still ongoing, but the civil suits from Sandusky’s sex abuse victims will take a further financial and psychological toll on the university.

In short, the Sandusky saga will impact Penn State for years. The NCAA penalties alone, with the forfeiting of past victories, bans from bowl games for four years, loss of football scholarships and $60 million in fines will affect the school’s athletic programs in multiple ways long after they officially end.

And with major universities, football programs are crucial to financial support from alumni and similar boosters. The influence of football at Penn State and other universities helps to explain how the school wound up in the current mess.

Penn State is hardly the first institution to fail to pursue claims of internal wrongdoing aggressively. It’s just that in this instance, the crimes involved — the sexual abuse of children — so shock the conscience that public outrage has reached new heights.

The multiple punishments meted out, along with those still pending, presumably will provide the lesson Penn State needs to avoid any such situation in the future. In fact, we would hope that any time a university is inclined to sweep an allegation under the rug, the name “Jerry Sandusky” will come immediately to the minds of school officials.

But will it? Arrogance is a powerful human characteristic. And the tendency to circle the wagons in response to bad news is an ever-present temptation.

However, we can’t help but think of how different things would have been had the leadership at Penn State established better priorities. The adage about honesty being the best policy holds true, and some genuine concern for the children involved would have produced a different outcome.

Yet it’s obvious no one in charge at the university was thinking about those children — or others yet to be targeted by a pedophile. If they had, Penn State’s reputation would be intact.

At many universities, football has become the tail that wags the dog. Penn State has learned the consequences of that the hard way.

Will other universities learn? And will other institutions learn the value of dealing with wrongdoing in a forthright manner? That’s the real test here.