To clear our palates of the nasty aftertaste from the welter of Ethics Train Wrecks crashing though our skulls of late, I thought it might be calming to note the latest settling of the wreckage from one of the worst ETW’s of them all: the Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno-Penn State Express.
Yesterday, the NCAA prematurely lifted its remaining sanctions on Penn State, deceptively declaring a victory and retreating because its sanctions were about to be declared illegal. I’m not going to write as much as I normally would about this, because I’d like to send you here, to Glenn Logan’s blog A Sea of Blue, where he covers the matter superbly. Glenn is a longtime visitor at eEthics Alarms, but his own blog keeps him too busy to comment as often as he once did. Not only is he ethically astute and a fine writer, he also is one of the rare bloggers who engages his commenters on a regular basis, a practice I obviously endorse.
When the NCAA decided to ignore its charter and the limits of its powers to slap Penn State with draconian punishment for conduct that had less to do with college athletics and more to do with the ability of a role model’s ability to corrupt a culture, I called it a capitulation to the mob, and wrote…
There is a dangerous level of support in our culture for such ad hoc punishment these days, and it is cause for a serious ethics alarm. We see it in Occupy Wall Street’s call for banking and investment managers to be jailed regardless of whether they actually broke any laws. We see it in the rush to prosecute and punish George Zimmerman regardless of whether he has a legitimate self-defense claim. Here is the key fact to consider in the Penn State case: Penn State has broken no NCAA rules whatsoever. Yet the NCAA
- Fined the school $60 million,
- Imposed a four-year postseason ban on Penn State football,
- Significantly reduced the number of scholarship players the team can field over the next four years,
- Placed the program on probation for five years and enabled any current or incoming player to transfer and play immediately without restriction.
Why? Because lots of people said they should, and because they could get away with it. That’s not a sufficient reason to violate the principle that punishment should be based on rules and laws that exist before they are violated. And allowing mob justice to prevail is always a dangerous and irresponsible precedent to set.
Glenn picks up the baton where I left it, writing…
“The NCAA had no business involving itself in what was essentially a personnel and legal matter that should have been left to the legal authorities, the university, and the state of Pennsylvania. The NCAA’s raison d’être is not to punish all immoral conduct within athletics programs, but to ensure fair competition between its member schools. It is left to the schools to discipline employees and officials under its control who are not coaches or players.
Virtually all the NCAA’s rules were set up with that in mind, but in the case of Penn State, they decided to use them as a public relations tool to satisfy those who refused to accept Penn State competing after the awful revelations of abuse that were uncovered during the process. Ending what I consider to be a lawless action prematurely can only be an unalloyed good, even if the net effect may not accomplish what should have been the objective goal.”
That last certainly seems to be the case. After the ban was lifted, deliriously happy Penn State students demonstrated, rallied and chanted, many of them demanding that the monument to Paterno, which was taken down because, he, you know, allowed children to be sexually molested by a predator so no embarrassment would come to his beloved football program, be returned to a place of honor. (I didn’t want it taken down, but not for the reasons these warped kids want it put back up.)
The place is still sick, and Joe Paterno was the contagion. Nevertheless, the NCAA was wrong.
Now go read Glenn, please.
(All right, I did write as much as usual.)