Football and Politics: Tom Corbett and Penn State

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

Yes, I know, I'm not generally the best person to discuss sports. And in the interest of full disclosure, I've never actually been to a football game. Still, I understand the economic effects that football has on college: both direct and indirect. The lessons we can learn from that relationship, and the Penn State imbroglio, have direct transferability to what is happening to our political system. Further, the meshing of the two has had life-altering consequences for too many young boys. 

Friday, USA Today had an editorial on Penn State, entitled “Will Penn State save itself from 'death penalty'?”.  The salient point from the editorial:

Outraged critics want the NCAA to level its “death penalty” to shut down the Nittany Lion football program for at least a year. That option is under consideration, and appropriately so given the severity of the crime, but it's a crude tool. No doubt it would cripple Penn State's football program for many years. That's what happened the only time it was used, against Southern Methodist University in 1987. But it would also injure a lot of people — players, employees, businesses — who have no culpability. Before it's applied again, Penn State should have a chance to come up with a response that could serve as a model. (Emphasis mine.)

Here's the thing about culpability, and its applicability to politics: there are no indrectly-involved innocent adults (except the victims). What happened at Penn State, and as the editorial points out, at many other institutions, is that a bunch of very rich people use their money to further their ends, the needs of everyone else be damned. Happy Valley is an insular society where everyone knows what's going on. People have known about Sandusky and the cover-up for decades potentially going back to the 1970's. But hey, Penn State was winning, and that was all that mattered. “Mattered” not just to the college, but to the political system of Pennsylvania.

In 2008, information about Sandusky was brought to the PA Attorney General's office, then headed by Tom Corbett. The case languished as Corbett ran for Governor, accepting in $640,000 in donations from Jerry Sandusky's Second Mile charity. Worse, after assuming office, Corbett gave a $3 million dollar grant to Second Mile. As a side point, in his position as governor, Corbett is an ex-officio trustee of Penn State. The trustees, you may recall, didn't fare so well in Louis Freeh's report, in terms of not acting on information about which they were well aware.

After Corbett left the AG's office, it was a matter of months until Sandusky was indicted and successfully prosecuted. After 3 years of inaction, MONTHS. Three years of additional victims. The money generated by Penn State football was so very important not only to the university (at the expense of academic programs) but to the governor's office. Important enough that the dozens of sexually abused boys did not matter at all to any of them. To be clear: Tom Corbett knew he was going to run for governor while he was AG. He allowed a multiple-victim sexual abuse case to not be prosecuted so that he could protect a football team and get political donations.

Let that sink in. 

In my mind, there is no doubt that the punishment to Penn State should be that they don't get to play football this year. The players should be allowed by the NCAA to either transfer to other schools, or take a year off and maintain eligibility. If that's too harsh, really punish them by allocating every single dollar in profit made by the football program to charities that work with sexual abuse victims for the 2012-13 season, 90% of the profit allocated that way for the following season, dropping down each year…

And for the political side? Prosecute Tom Corbett for hindering prosecution, take away his law degree, and impeach him for moral turpitude. 

Hold Penn State and Tom Corbett up as talismen for what should never, EVER happen again.


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