The NCAA Withdraws Its Unethical Sanctions On Penn State

Paterno  Statue

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

“Camp Kill Jews” Ethics

And they say “Washington Redskins” is offensive.

"What a charming name! What does it mean in your language? Oh...wait, WHAT???"

“What a charming name! What does it mean in your language? Oh…wait, WHAT???”

From Spain comes the news that the town of Castrillo Matajudios, which literally means “Camp Kill Jews,” has voted to change its name after 400 years. This appears to be part of Spain’s recent, rather belated, I would say, efforts to acknowledge and express regret to Jews for the persecution they endured during the Spanish Inquisition.

Strange as it seem, the current name probably came into being not to denigrate Jews, but to protect Jews in the town who had officially converted to Catholicism under threat of torture and death. As such, it is a piece of history, and the words convey information about the town, the country, and the people who lived there, not a slur….except to someone who knows nothing about the town.

I’m not aware of a perfect analogy for this situation. It has some similarities to the plight of the towns of Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, named for a famous and long-gone hotel in the area, and the Amish community of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, named when a common uses of that term conveyed “fellowship.” In a  parallel universe where political correctness was dictated by social conservatives rather censorious progressives, these towns might be getting coercive signed letters from Republican Senators “suggesting” that they change their names to something less offensive, even though, as with the Redskins name, history and context would be lost. Continue reading

Rick Curl, The University Of Maryland, Penn State, and Moral Luck

The Rick Curl case is the ethics alarm that won’t stop ringing.

Could Joe be the rule rather than the exception?

Could Joe be the rule rather than the exception?

I’ve written about it twice, both times focusing on the devil’s deal made by the victim and her family, who allowed Curl, a renowned D.D. area swimming coach, to get away with sexually molesting a 13-year female swimmer under his supervision and escape either official detection or legal punishment for decades, as the victim’s family decided to accept $150,000 in hush money/ extortion/ settlement from the rapist-coach instead. Curl went on his happy coaching, and maybe child-molesting way—we don’t know if there were other victims or other pay-offs—even to the Olympics, until the girl he molested, Kelley Currin, had a belated attack of conscience at 40 and finally told authorities about what a trusted coach in close contact with girls on a daily basis had done to her, leading to Curl’s arrest last year.

Rick Curl was sentenced to seven years in prison for child sexual abuse at a hearing this week. At that hearing, we learned for the first time that the University of Maryland had been informed about the abuse more than 25 years ago, and probably knew about it before that. Continue reading

Different Symptoms, Same Ethics Illness: The Mike Rice-Rutgers Scandal And The Sandusky-Paterno-Penn State Tragedy

Missed out on your statue by thaaaat much, Mike.

Missed out on your statue by thaaaat much, Mike.

The question isn’t, as many news reports would have us believe, whether the Mike Rice affair mandates an administrative house-cleaning at Rutgers. Of course it does. The question is why, after the far uglier Penn State scandal, anyone possessing the gray matter of the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” thinks otherwise.

In case you are really smart and pay no attention to the dire ethics swamp known as college sports: Mike Rice was a very successful Rutgers basketball coach until ESPN got a hold of a video compilation of him abusing his players on multiple occasions. Though the Rutgers athletic director had seen the damning evidence in November, he let Wise off with a fine and suspension; then the recent national exposure forced him to fire Wise. This prompted Rutger’s president, Robert Barchi, to fire the athletic director (Tim Parnetti) for not taking appropriate action once he had discovered his coach was hitting, assaulting, and taunting players. And Barchi? Even though he knew, or should have known, that Rice’s methods were unacceptable, he never looked at the video (or so he says) that was available to him six months ago, until April. The New York Times reports that many Rutgers officials as well as the university’s outside attorneys knew that Rice was abusing his players,and that he had been doing so for years.

The net lessons learned from the Penn State disaster are zero. As the Times article says, “interviews and documents reveal a culture in which the university was far more concerned with protecting itself from legal action than with protecting its students from an abusive coach.” Yes, a coach attacking student is far short of child-molesting, but that’s  irrelevant: the corrupt cultural syndrome is exactly the same.  Rutgers, top to bottom, placed winning basketball games above sportsmanship, decency, fairness, and protecting their own students. The difference between Rutgers and Penn State is Joe Paterno and moral luck.

Let us be clear: if a teacher physically assaults a student, anywhere, at any level, ever, that teacher has to be fired, and probably prosecuted. A coach is no different. This isn’t open to debate. Yet I listened, as my gorge rose, to the glib and simple-minded conservative radio host Sean Hannity jabber with ex-Notre Dame football coach and facile “inspirational speaker” Lou Holtz about how Parnetti got a raw deal. Why? Parnetti built a great program! So he lets his coaches assault his players—anyone can make a mistake! Isn’t this hindsight? Second-guessing?

“Players are spoiled today; they just aren’t ready to be criticized,” said Holtz, who speaks in platitudes and nostrums that cover a Neanderthal sensibility (so you know he’s much in demand for corporate speaking gigs.)  These men are both ethics-challenged fools, but they have plenty of company.  Rutgers’ report on Rice’s abusive treatment assembled excuses and rationalizations by the authors and others. Rutgers athletic assistants said the video clips showing Rice kicking his players and throwing objects at them “were taken out of context.” What?? In what “context” is it appropriate for a college coach to do this? None! Many of Rice’s players said he prepared them well for tough competition. The report noted that under Rice’s abusive, tortious methods, the players’ grades rose to a B average. Oh! Well, that must mean assault and battery is okay, then, because it works!  This is the ethical standard Rutgers is teaching its students.

Parents everywhere: grab your student and run.

Elsewhere, Rutgers’s internal report called Rice “passionate, energetic and demanding” and concluded that his intense tactics were only aimed at improving his team and “were in no way motivated by animus.” Ah! So beating kids is okay, as long as it’s well-intentioned! This culture is sick, sick, sick and as with Penn State, it is part of a large sick culture that pervades university sports. Here’s one official from another sick school defending Parnetti:

“I think it was unfair for them to fire Pernetti. There were probably a lot of things that went into the decision not to fire Mike Rice in December. And as gruesome as that tape was, it was also a first offense for Mike Rice. I think Pernetti is taking the heat for everything and sometimes in leadership roles you take the glory probably more than you deserve and you take the heat more than you deserve. I think right now Pernetti is taking the heat more than he deserves.”

A first offense???? The video was compiled from dozens of incidents, and Rice’s penchant for violence and abuse were already known! Yeah, there were  “a lot of things that went into the decision not to fire”  Rice, none of which add up to a single good reason not to get rid of any coach who beats up kids in his charge.

The New York Post interviewed a college official who believes its all Facebook and Twitter’s fault:

“The whole situation, top to bottom is a shame. But my opinion is that there is no manual or rule book for how to handle these types of situations. To say (Pernetti) should have handled this situation a certain way, well unless you’ve been in his shoes, it’s hard to comment on it. Obviously there was a reason why Pernetti kept Mike Rice around. What was that reason? We don’t know. But one thing I saw was that his kids, his players backed him. So In my opinion do you know what got Mike Rice and Tim Pernetti fired? Social media got them fired. People make comments and form opinions without knowing all the facts sometimes. That’s the world we live in now.”

Yes, there is a rule book, and it’s called ethics, not that this guy, or whatever college he works for, would recognize it. “Unless you’ve been in his shoes”? The translation of this fatuous and offensive rationalization is simple: “Hey, there’s a lot of pressure on this guy to win, and he’s not going to let a couple of bruised sophomores jeopardize the won-lost record and alumni support. I bet you’d let the kids get beat up too.”

I wonder what schools those two anonymous officials work for? That’s the frightening part;  they could be working at almost any big time sports school, because that’s the predominant culture there.


Sources: New York Times, Sean Hannity, New York Post

The Red Caboose On The Penn State Ethics Train Wreck Arrives: The Paterno Family’s Report


To understand what the Joe Paterno’s family’s report (released on Feb. 10) regarding the late Penn State football coach’s culpability in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse cover-up means, one has to understand what lawyers do, and why it is completely ethical for them to do so, as long as their role isn’t misrepresented by them or their clients.

Lawyers exist to allow non-lawyers to have access to a legal system that is (needlessly) complicated and technical, and to provide their legal training, analytical skills and advocacy abilities to their clients’ legal and legitimate needs and objectives. A lawyer who interposes his or her own opinions, judgments and desires on the client without being asked to do so is, in most cases, behaving unprofessionally and unethically. This is an essential principle to grasp, and yet the vast majority of the public do not grasp it. Nonetheless, without the partisanship a lawyer brings to the attorney-client relationship, regardless of whether a client is rich or poor, altruistic or venal, kind or cruel, we would all be slaves to the laws we supposedly create ourselves, through the machinery of a republic.

An independent investigation of the Penn State administration’s failure to stop serial child molester Jerry Sandusky from harming young children found that iconic football coach Joe Paterno was at the center of the school’s misconduct and the catalyst for it. The investigation was performed by Louis Freeh, a lawyer, a former prosecutor, a former federal judge, and once the head of the F.B.I.  His charge was to find out what happened and who was at fault—not to nail Paterno or anyone else.  It was an independent investigation, with no dictated result. Don Van Natta, a sportswriter whom I supposed should not be expected to understand such distinctions, writes,

“If the Freeh report was a prosecutor’s relentless opening statement that delivered devastating, far-reaching consequences, the Paternos’ rebuttal is a defense attorney’s closing argument brimming with outrage and fury.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Freeh report was not a work of advocacy in an adversarial setting, but akin to a judge’s objective decision after reviewing the relevant and available facts. The Paterno family report, in contrast, is a work of advocacy, like a brief arguing an appeal to overturn a judicial decision against a lawyer’s client. The charge given to Freeh in his investigation was to find out what went wrong and why. (It began with the assumption that something did go wrong, which was reasonable, since a child predator had somehow managed to roam the Penn State campus for decades, including a ten-year period after he had been seen sexually assaulting a child in a Penn State shower.) Freeh was not told to get Penn State off the hook, or to pin as much as possible on Joe Paterno. The authors of the Paterno family report, however, were charged with the task of rebutting and discrediting Freeh’s report in order to rescue Joe Paterno’s reputation and legacy. It is an advocacy memorandum, like the torture memos and the recent Justice Department justification of the killer drone program. Continue reading

Hypocrites of the Year: The NCAA

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

The Bill James Effect, Or How Nature Conspires To Make Us Irresponsible

Quiz: What do Gen.Lee and Bill James have in common?

You see, our strengths do us in, sooner or later. The greater the strength, the more successful it has made us, the more dangerous it is.

In the American Civil War, Robert E. Lee was the smartest general on the field…so smart that he broke iron-clad rules of battle strategy again and again, and prevailed every time. When everyone told him how it was usually done, always done, Lee knew that he could get an edge by doing something else. You never divide your forces, his aides, subordinates and the military books told him. So Lee did, at Chancellorsville, and won an incredible victory.

Then came July 3, 1863: the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge. Everyone told Lee that a massed Napoleonic assault, over an open field, into enemy artillery and a fortified line, was suicidal. But when conventional wisdom dictated a course of action, that was when Lee had always succeeded by ignoring it. So he ordered Pickett’s Charge. This time, conventional wisdom was right. The same qualities of creativity, courage, certitude, and willingness to resist the power of convention that had caused Lee’s men to trust him unconditionally had resulted in the massacre of thousands. Pickett’s Charge wasn’t bold or ingenious. It was irresponsible. Lee, because of a lifetime of success challenging what others thought was obvious, was no longer able to tell the difference. Continue reading

The University of Montana, Campus Rape, and the Penn State Disease

The Justice Department is investigating this issue, so I am hardly going to get to the bottom of it in a blog post. But there is obviously a rape and sexual assault problem at the University of Montana, and to conclude that the administration is a large part of the problem doesn’t take much of investigation. This certainly appears to be a school suffering from the Penn State disease, in which the values of the institution place public relations, spin and, once again, football above the welfare of past, present and future victims.

Let us just begin with this salient fact:  and President Royce Engstrom still has his job. In February, a student who was a Saudi national was accused in two campus incidents, one involving a rape, and another involving sexual assault. Records show that the first action taken by the administration, in the person of now-retired UM Dean of Students Charles Couture, was to alert the accused, advise him, and suggest that he get out of Dodge before he could be arrested—which he did, fleeing to Saudi Arabia. The police didn’t learn about the complaints for a week, and by then the alleged student rapist was long gone. Then Engstrom had the jaw-dropping gall to tell the press that this was a good thing, and that his staff had acted in a “timely” and “appropriate” fashion. “We can let people know we have dealt with these (alleged assaults) and that particular perpetrator is gone,” Engstrom said.

In a word, unbelievable. Continue reading

The Ethical Fate For Joe Paterno’s Statue

In the wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations regarding the extent of the late Joe Paterno’s involvement in allowing Jerry Sandusky’s child molesting appetites to be sated with Penn State’s  assistance, many are calling for the campus statue honoring the now-disgraced coach to be removed.

I am generally opposed to removing memorials and honors to historical figures according to the popular verdicts of the day, for several reasons. The main one is that every individual who ever achieved something worthy of such honor also was guilty of misconduct that someone could convincingly argue outweighs it on moral or ethical grounds. New facts are uncovered, cultural values shift, and over time, no revered figure is safe from deconstruction. The reverse is also inevitable: if a life can be judged unworthy of honor, subsequent generations may well disagree. The verdict of a community, a culture and an era should be given due weight and respect;  a statue, memorial or monument not only recognizes an individual but also represents the judgment of our predecessors. Leave their judgments alone, and if we disagree with them, try to make ours better. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Joe Paterno

“This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”

The late Joe Paterno, legendary Penn State football coach, in a previously unreleased and unpublished column he wrote in the wake of the  Joe Sandusky child abuse scandal, in which he played a major role. The internal Penn State investigation into the university’s handling of the episode was released today.


In denial to the end, Paterno never understood how he, and football, contributed to the culture that allowed Sandusky to prey on young boys with the passive assistance of Joe and the school he loved.

Of course the scandal was about football. It was about how reliance on football to the exclusion of all other priorities and values warped an academic culture. It was about the danger of elevating a football coach to such status and power that his tunnel-vision could infect an entire college campus. It was about how the grotesquely exaggerated importance, popularity, visibility, and financial profitability of a football program can elevate those responsible for its success to a degree where they become unaccountable, and able to exploit their power for private and possibly criminal motives. Continue reading