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July 31, 2012

Life’s Lessons at Penn State

Derek Shackelford

If you like college sports such as golf, gymnastics, soccer and swimming, then you probably like college football because – at many of the large universities, football is the engine that drives the rest of its athletic programs.


Hence, the reason Penn State football has become a big deal in the sports world is obvious. The Nittany Lions were recently sanctioned by the NCAA with a $60 million fine, a four-year post-season bowl ban, and the vacating of all its wins from 1998 through 2011. Also included in the penalties is the reduction of 20 football scholarships in each on the next four years.


The career record of former coach Joe Paterno has now been diminished by 111 wins and he is no longer the all-time leader in career victories.


What is interesting about the $60 million dollar fine? This is equivalent to the average annual revenue of the Penn State football program. Let’s say it together: college football is big business. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Current players and future athletes who have already signed with Penn State are free to transfer and play immediately for another school.


These sanctions come on the heels of the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh on the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Happy Valley campus. The report concluded that top administration officials and Joe Paterno had concealed allegations of sexual abuse by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15-year period. He is currently awaiting sentencing.


The Freeh report concluded that Coach Paterno and other administrative officials “concealed evidence to prevent the University from negative attention and publicity.” In hindsight, this was to no avail because the cover-up has apparently led to negative attention and publicity.


Some critics have surmised that the NCAA has unfairly penalized Penn State because many of the players and coaches were not part of the investigation and are taking the brunt of the blow because of the mistakes of others in authority. What may be even more of a contradiction is that the NCAA did not conduct its own investigation and made its conclusions largely on the Freeh report.


The NCAA has previously been lenient on programs that have knowingly and willingly violated NCAA regulations. This is apparently a different time with a different set of circumstances. There is no doubt that Penn State is being made an example when it comes to the sanctions. Certainly there should be some penalty for the indiscretions of the athletic department and college administration.


The Penn State situation has many different layers to it. It is not so cut and dry. There are victims whose lives have been forever changed and how long it takes them to experience healing and redemption only time will tell. They deserve our compassion.


The larger student body is affected because of the publicity. Then, there is the legacy of Coach Paterno, who is not here to say anything in his defense. He died in January at 85.


Coach Paterno was Penn State and Penn State was Coach Paterno. They were joined at the hip. A statue, displayed to show how the university felt about the coach’s legacy, has now been removed. There is no doubt that Joe Pa helped many a young man during his tenure. By the same token, when he could have helped younger children, who were not a part of the football program, he apparently chose not to do so.


I can personally attest to the influence that coaching has on the lives of young people. As a former player and coach, I can say that influence is great. As coaches we attempt to teach life lessons that go far beyond the playing field. Life becomes more challenging after an athletic career. In fact, many a player may have confided more in their coach than their parents. This is the reality of it. Many a player has talked about the influence that Coach Paterno had on him during his playing days and far beyond. There is a lesson in this for all of us.


It is true that none of us is perfect, and there are lessons to be learned every day. This is no different with the Penn State football situation. There are some tremendous responsibilities that come with parenting, coaching and leading. This responsibility should never be taken lightly.


We develop, we influence and we prepare young people to realize their potential and utilize their gifts so that life is ultimately meaningful. As we do this, there are times that we ask them to stand up for what is right; we try to prepare them for when that moment comes. Our hope is that they make the right decision.


When we fail them, we should apologize so that they may know we take responsibility for our mess up. This can be used as a learning tool for growth.


The lesson from this Penn State situation is that it is time the university officials admit they have failed. The proper response is: We are sorry for allowing this to happen. We messed up. Give us another chance so that we can learn from this and do better in the future.


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