I have mixed emotions about this. I understand that the current players and coaches had nothing to do with it. Those who did have faced the consequences. Sandusky is in prison for up to sixty years and will likely die there. Head coach Joe Paterno was fired after decades of running one of the most successful football programs in the country and died a short time later. The President, Vice-President, and Athletic Director of the school have all been charged with covering up Sandusky’s sex abuse crimes. They are awaiting trial. So all of the bad guys in this have faced the authorities in some way. Should the remaining bystanders be punished for the sins of others? Maybe the penalties were too harsh in the first place and maybe the NCAA should have just let the justice system take care of the issue.
Along with the sanctions noted above the NCAA also demanded Penn State educate its staff and students about sexual abuse and the school has done very well at that. The NCAA vacated wins. It fined the school. It placed the school on probation for five years. None of those penalties have changed.
Here is where I have a problem. As a survivor what this sudden decision says to me is that the NCAA felt that enough time had passed that it is no longer a big issue. The media is long gone from Happy Valley and the story is no longer of interest to the general public. It says that college football and the money it brings in is far more important than the lost lives of the ten young men who were abused by one man and whose actions were covered up by several other men. It says to other schools that if something similar happens there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the outset, but that once the dust has settled and the story is gone from the headlines all will be forgiven and forgotten and life will return to normal.
Life will not return to normal for those ten young men, though, at least not that quickly. They are struggling to heal from their emotional wounds and it is likely that the NCAA lifting sanctions says something to them about how little import their lives have to those whose lives revolve around winning and losing games. Surviving sex abuse is not a game. It can be a lifelong process of recovery. Two years ago the NCAA indicated that they understood that and they supported that recovery by laying down the law and making an example of Penn State. Now that example has lost much of its meaning as Penn State is eligible to play in the post-season again this year and next year will have all of its scholarships back. How would we react if this were the Catholic Church and not Penn State, or an elementary school where the administration allowed abuse to happen without doing anything? We need to think about that and where our priorities lie as a nation–are college football games really that much more important than the loss of innocence that Sandusky’s victims suffered? I sincerely hope not.