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… Continue reading
Emmert: “Never again will the NCAA be blamed for the results of the culture we encourage and support. We hope.” (Or words to that effect.)
What’s wrong with the NCAA’s epic sanctions against Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky pederasty scandal? I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I’ve concluded that the answer is “Just about everything.”
Most of the focus of the media and pundits have been on the “punishing the innocent” complaint. As a general rule, I detest aversion to punishing the innocent as a justification for inadequately punishing the guilty or otherwise avoiding necessary steps to address problems; it’s a rationalization for encouraging unethical, exploitive, illegal and even deadly conduct. This toxic rationale has caused incalculable harm across the globe; it currently abets illegal immigration, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and the international crimes of dictators. The United States, within our lifetimes, may drive itself into financial collapse by adopting the theory that it is unfair and unethical to “punish” the expectant beneficiaries of entitlements that the nation can no longer afford by reducing benefits, or by taxing wealthy citizens who opposed the profligate spending in the first place. As Ethics Bob writes in his post about the Penn State sanctions,
“Accountability for wrongdoing often brings down the innocent along with the guilty. Think about the workers at Enron, Arthur Anderson, or MCI-Worldcom, who lost their jobs when their bosses’ malfeasance destroyed their companies… there is no way of punishing the guilty without harming people close to, or dependent on them. Even a mass murderer–when he is sent away his mother suffers along with him. When Al Qaeda militants are killed, their family members often die with them.”
Bob isn’t making an invalid “everybody does it,” argument, but a practical, “that’s the way the world works” argument. If we believe in accountability, we have to accept the fact that the innocent will often be collateral damage. It isn’t fair, but this is utilitarianism at its most persuasive. Allowing wrongdoers to prosper is ethically worse.
If the NCAA sanctions against Penn State were otherwise appropriate, I wouldn’t have a problem with the collateral damage. They aren’t appropriate, however. The sanctions are unethical. Continue reading