SI Vault
 
We Are Still ... Penn State
S.L. Price
November 05, 2012
A YEAR AFTER THE JERRY SANDUSKY REVELATIONS ROCKED THE UNIVERSITY AND PUT THE FOOTBALL CULTURE ON TRIAL, PEOPLE IN HAPPY VALLEY REMAIN DIVIDED ABOUT WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY LIES—BUT NOT ABOUT THEIR SURPRISINGLY RESILIENT NITTANY LIONS
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 05, 2012

We Are Still ... Penn State

A YEAR AFTER THE JERRY SANDUSKY REVELATIONS ROCKED THE UNIVERSITY AND PUT THE FOOTBALL CULTURE ON TRIAL, PEOPLE IN HAPPY VALLEY REMAIN DIVIDED ABOUT WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY LIES—BUT NOT ABOUT THEIR SURPRISINGLY RESILIENT NITTANY LIONS

1 2 3 4 5

Yet he's wrong in one respect. Attending a school that "did it the right way" marked me more than I knew. The UNC ethos embodied by basketball coach Dean Smith had burrowed deep. I spent the last 30 years actually believing that big-time sports can be folded into an academic environment without warping it. Now I write for a magazine and website that have denounced the influence of major-college sports while lionizing successful coaches and any athlete who studies hard, stays in school or gets his degree. The implicit message: Yes, college sports can be dirty, but places like Notre Dame, Duke and Stanford prove that white hats can thrive too.

No more. The scandals at Penn State and North Carolina, while different in kind, prove that even at schools with the best intentions, the mere presence of a team that commands TV rights fees worth $20 million to $30 million a year, that financially carries the rest of the athletic department, that with its highly emotional, title-seeking mentality serves as a university's "front porch" will wield influence at least equal to its monetary clout. College sports provide human connection in a uniquely thrilling way, but "when it gets to the money part, then we compromise ourselves," Kretchmar said. "It gets too successful, almost."

Not even the staunchest Paterno apologist will say Joe Pa didn't have great power at Penn State. Not even those sure that Freeh, the NCAA and the national media engaged in a rush to judgment will deny that, faced with the publicity sure to erupt following the revelation of a football celebrity's raping children, the administration choked. "We don't have just one culture at Penn State," said Dr. Dave Joyner, the former Nittany Lions tackle who as a board member voted for Paterno's dismissal and then took over as athletic director. "But there was something out of whack—no question."

Joyner's response has been mostly a matter of tweaks: more professors traveling with teams; a gathering of the top 50 women leaders at the university, hosted by O'Brien; a vague imperative to keep the football program integrated in campus life. "What was the Navy like before Tailhook?" Joyner asks, referring to the scandal in which more than 100 Navy and Marine officers were accused of sexual assault and harassment at a 1991 meeting in Las Vegas. "A bunch of people believed in honor and duty and discipline, and though Tailhook happened, the vast majority still believed. Same thing here. We had a horrible thing happen, but the core values in this university are the same: honor and integrity and academics as the first tenor of what we do."

Joyner's return to "values" is understandable; the program had never before been hit with a major NCAA infraction. Yet it still failed on a deeply moral level, and if Freeh's charge that Sandusky was abetted by a fear of "bad publicity" is proved true, then the problem is larger than anything the NCAA has the tools to fix. Yes, Emmert called Penn State "an athletic culture thatwent horribly awry." But as president of LSU, he also said that success in football was "essential for the success of Louisiana State University." He is part of a system—as shown by the Pac-12's new $4.3 billion TV contract for football—that grows richer and less controllable by the day. "We have met the enemy," said former NCAA president Gene Corrigan last month, "and he is us."

The NCAA and television "have made college football just one notch below professional football," said Corbett. "It's the moneymaker. So if anybody has enhanced the importance of football to the potential of being more important than education, the NCAA is equally involved."

But there's still plenty of guilt, it seems, to go around. To read the billboards flashing outside the state capital, Harrisburg (WHY? WAS GOVERNOR CORBETT SO QUICK TO BLAME JOE PATERNO AND SO SLOW TO PROSECUTE JERRY SANDUSKY); to hear the 2012 Democratic candidate for attorney general, Kathleen Kane, harp on the Republican Corbett's conduct in Sandusky's case; and to see Democrats in the state legislature advance a resolution last month requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice review the handling of the Sandusky investigation and Corbett's role in it, is to see an issue that shows no sign of fading. Last week, to Corbett's displeasure, Kane and her Republican opponent both pledged to look into the Sandusky prosecution if elected.

"Here's what I'm pissed at," Corbett said last Thursday in his office in the Capitol building. "They can go revisit the file, because I know that politics played no part in the decisions. I've never heard of anybody investigating a successful prosecution, 45 of 48 counts."

It doesn't help that last month Aaron Fisher—or Victim 1, as he was known during the trial—told a national TV audience that he considered suicide because of the prosecution's slow pace after he came forward to accuse Sandusky in 2008. Corbett was attorney general then, credited with creating a sexual predators unit that convicted some 300 offenders, and he was mulling his 2010 run for governor. It would take three years for the grand jury to indict Sandusky, and that fact—coupled with campaign contributions that Corbett accepted from board members of Sandusky's charity, the Second Mile, while knowing Sandusky was under investigation—has kept the governor's approval ratings hovering around 30%.

As a result, Corbett has gone on the offensive; at a press conference last Thursday he uncorked a six-minute diatribe against critics of his work in the Sandusky case. Then he sat for a 49-minute interview and provided a more detailed rebuttal. No, he said, there was not, as has been widely reported, only one state trooper assigned to the case for well over a year. "They had two on," Corbett said. And, he added, "as soon as it gets referred to [the Attorney General's office], we put two agents on it."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5