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Fire! Fire! Fire! And Other Words to Get You to Read my Article on Penn State’s Just Deserts


Upon a pillory, that all the world may see: A just desert for such impiety. – 16th century proverb

Horn Brain’s “The Lynching of Penn State” provides an philosophical argument about the misguided righteousness of mob mentality and the “barbarism” of lynching – even in a civilized form the NCAA boxed up for Penn State athletics. While I disagree with BON featuring the title “The Lynching on Penn State,” I respect Horn Brain’s right to communicate tripe without fear of consequences from the Government. In private life, on the other hand, the optimum consequence for Horn Brain’s free speech would be for all of us to ignore it and for BON to censure Horn Brain for his irresponsible comparisons. That’s because our society perceives that lynched victims are strung up black men during the times of Jim Crow – and not criminal organizations waiving their rights to appeal to expediently resolve their boy rape problem.

I can only imagine what NCAA President Mark Emmert would think if he read Horn Brain’s article. Here he is fresh from the Sandusky trial and release of the Freeh Report. One of his members has committed the worst conspiracy of criminal activity in its history, he has more than enough information to act on and the NCAA is on the brink of an existential crisis. You have respected media types like Bob Costas questioning how or why Penn State would field a team at all. Even the Department of Education may get in on the action. To simply dismiss the matter for criminal or civil courts would not be an option for a leader accountable to his members.

Emmert, serving at the pleasure of NCAA members, contacted Penn State to discuss their options, letting them know that the death penalty and revocation of membership was a possibility. Prior to the sanctions, Penn State’s new head coach was asked his feedback by the new Penn State President, and he weighed in to make sure they got to play and got to play on television. So that’s how Penn State plea bargained its way to lesser sanctions than what they could have received and what many believe they should have received based on the nature and extent of the crimes and the overwhelming evidence against the athletics program.

So is justice served? Did the mob lynch Penn State 21st-century style?

We don’t know yet. Penn State acted fast to ensure the NCAA could not issue harsher organizational penalties when new information comes out in ongoing civil, criminal and federal proceedings. If new information comes out, the NCAA has agreed to only penalize individuals from this point. Penn State was not a victim, but a participant in the punishment. It’s more about risk management, and to a lesser extent, public relations.

Will Penn State change? Will they recover from these harsh sanctions? I don’t know what to make about Penn State, but they’ll be a poster child of dysfunctional organizations for decades. They need to rotate their Board of Trustees more (15-year terms) and adopt new priorities. University leadership around the country is often taken for granted, but it’s extremely important that people pay attention and ensure that the “grown-ups” are in charge. At the end of the day, many of the arguments against the punitive measures for Penn State are either arguments against the NCAA as an enforcement agent, or against punishment for any organization for any reason. It's not necessarily a bad argument to make, but to use the most extreme example of athletic department abuse of authority in history to attempt to make that point is folly.

I’ll leave you with this famous 20th-century quote cautioning against holding institutions responsible for man’s original sin and human nature:

“But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!”

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