By Bradley J. Mitchell
Top college football programs circle Penn State’s outstanding players, trying to convince them to leave State College in the wake of the NCAA’s harsh punishment.
Last week, senior linebacker Michael Mauti spoke on behalf of the team, saying: “This program was not built by one man, and it sure as hell won’t get torn down by one man. No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we’ve got here. This is what Penn State is about — fighting through adversity.”
How did we get to this place? Because of the rush to get to the “breaking news” of the Freeh report, hard facts — and the lack of them — were overlooked by news outlets large and small, and the report’s conclusions were reported as fact. Very few reporters or media commentators appear to have given the report even a cursory glance before spinning their narrative to millions of people. And that inaccurate narrative continues to this day.
Mistakes were made at Penn State, no question about it. Bad decisions resulted in innocent children being harmed, and nothing could be worse. But in order to prevent this from ever happening again, we need to get to the truth about what really happened.
That’s where Penn State’s leadership has failed us.
Failure occurred when the board of trustees unequivocally accepted Freeh’s in-house investigation as the final word. But the Freeh report was flawed from the start because criminal investigations were occurring at the same time. As a result, Freeh was unable to speak with any actual witnesses or people most relevant to the case, much less anyone under oath. He relied instead on third-party notes and emails written by others; he had no ability to grant immunity; he could not issue subpoenas; and he did not interview Joe Paterno.
Freeh’s report alleged a certain “culture” at Penn State. This conclusion, like so many in the report, is not substantiated. It suggested this culture led to a cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes. And it asserted that a football program with one of the highest graduation rates in the country and without a single NCAA infraction in its history, allowed academics to take a back seat.
The unquestioning acceptance of Freeh’s conclusions led to the next failure of leadership: accepting through a consent decree the most hypocritical NCAA sanctions ever imposed.
“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert piously declared at his news conference. The NCAA did not conduct an investigation and merely accepted the “conclusions” of the Freeh report.
Apparently, Emmert sees college basketball differently. Last spring, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics found that more than 40 percent of the revenues of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or “March Madness,” comes from schools with graduation rates of less than 50 percent. Incredibly, only graduating 50 percent — half — of basketball players on time is the NCAA’s own goal.
The NCAA puts basketball revenue ahead of educating young people. At the same time, it punishes Penn State football, a program earning a graduation rate of 87 percent under Joe Paterno, a rate tied with Stanford University and ranked in the top 10 nationally.
The NCAA has a public image problem, and getting involved with matters best left to criminal and civil courts is a bizarre way of asserting relevance in college sports.
The hypocrisy is stunning. These sanctions punish the innocent, not the guilty. How will taking scholarships away from student-athletes who were in kindergarten when Sandusky last coached at Penn State help protect children?
It’s up to us — the 500,000 Penn State alumni across this country — to move forward with integrity and honor.
We need to redesign our institutions and policies so pedophiles do not infiltrate them and do not have the opportunity to harm children.
Never before in the long history of Penn State has our community been so challenged, and never before has the school administration failed us so tremendously.
We desperately need new leadership. We should follow Winston Churchill’s counsel, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
The young men who stay and wear blue and white on Saturday afternoons this fall will have my respect, admiration and thanks.
They are at Penn State because they really want to be at Penn State.
Contrary to the media narrative, it was never all about winning. As Penn Staters, we know it’s always been about pursuing excellence with legitimate student-athletes. Nittany Nation will roar this season and support our team and our school — win or lose, as always.
We are going to remember Sandusky’s victims. We are going to learn from the tragedy they have suffered.
Confucius reminds us that “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Our student-athletes will accept no less.
And our alumni will accept no less. Yes, we are … Penn State.
Bradley J. Mitchell, a Penn State and Harvard alumnus, served on the White House staff of President George H.W. Bush. He lives in State College. This piece was posted in the Letter to the Editor section of the Centre Daily Times.