‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Jerry Sandusky went behind bars Friday night, probably for the rest of his life.
He deserves what he gets after a jury found overwhelming evidence of guilt in 45 of the 48 counts of sexual assault on 10 young boys. And Penn State, with whom Sandusky enjoyed an illustrious career as defensive coordinator and bosom buddy of legendary Joe Paterno, deserves what it gets after it allegedly covered up all of Sandusky’s heinous actions.
But even as the 68-year-old lifer-to-be’s attorneys prepare their pitiful appeals, even as Sandusky sits in protective custody under suicide watch, the case teaches all universities and colleges throughout the land a lesson.
Never again can any head coach of an athletic program assume a role so big, a face so imposing as Paterno’s, that it steers the policies and actions of an entire university.
It’s an issue that has been raised repeatedly over the course of this scandal, yet so many schools still tread the tightrope on it. Though no school has allowed a football coach — or any other coach for that matter — pull the kind of weight Paterno did with Penn State, there are still way too many institutions large and small that do everything they can to protect the high-revenue programs.
None of it sinks to the level of tolerating pedophiles. At least not as far as the public knows. Remember, the Bernie Fine sex abuse issue at Syracuse did in part turn out to be a malicious hoax.
But it’s the smaller stuff like misdemeanor crimes handled “in-house” so as to keep key players eligible for key games.
Things are getting better, as the big stuff like rapes and beatings generally go up the chains of command if the cops weren’t initially aware of it. But to truly clean things up, a kid stealing a laptop from his dorm neighbor cannot go unreported, either.
Penn State football became just another program on the sports landscape months ago, right after the late Paterno was shown the door. It doesn’t matter a hoot now if the Nittany Lions ever win a national title, or even a regular-season game, again. Jerry Sandusky made that a moot issue. The point here is that never again in Happy Valley will any coach become the face of that college, or sway university matters in the manner Paterno once did.
Indeed, the rest of the colleges will now take notice of what happens at Penn State. The millions of dollars of civil suits untold victims will now lodge against the school’s bountiful endowment. Former athletic director Tim Curley and former VP Gary Schultz are on the legal hook now for allegedly lying to the grand jury and failing to report accusations of misconduct.
It is all a shambles, all done to protect a program that brought tons of money into the school.
There is no cry here for colleges to abandon the quest for donor dollars through better athletics. But there is a way to do it, and a way not to do it. Running a clean program from the ground up, meaning treating a coach as an employee, insisting on accountability for those who work and play for him, and requiring those in charge to put crimes both large and small in the hands of the proper authorities is the minimum.
Schools should warn all players and coaches of this, too. Right in the student and employee handbooks, first page. Just say it flat out.
“We at Acme University are pledged to help you become a better player, coach, and person, providing all reasonable facilities and benefits to move you forward as athletes and supervisors of youth. As recipients of said privileges, we require that all students and coaches abide by the law. Any infractions will be referred immediately to the civil authorities.
“Commit a crime, and you are on your own.”
Penn State undoubtedly will follow those words, if not written, then at least implied, from now on. They will be a day late and millions of dollars short.
Other schools should do the same, before something that makes an NCAA death penalty look lenient, happens to them.
Your thoughts now that Sandusky has been convicted? Be heard in the comments below…