Legal Entries: NCAA fed Penn State to the lions

The statue of Joe Paterno has been taken down by Penn State.
Patrick Smith

The NCAA recently announced massive sanctions, fines and even the metaphysical punishment of stripping wins against Penn State. In related news, it’s official: As a society, we now rank somewhere between the Aztecs and the Roman Empire. The Aztecs are a long-gone, Mesoamerican culture that specialized in human sacrifice.

Because of course, what better way is there to demonstrate your own deeply held, sincere convictions than by stabbing a random guy on an altar who has nothing to do with your opinions? Elsewhere, the Romans perfected the early version of the Thunderdome and made public execution in the coliseum a compelling spectacle for the bloodthirsty masses. Extreme ceremony over actual remedy. Expressing grief through mass sacrifice or mass punishment. We are now a society that demands symbolic gestures instead of pragmatic solutions. At least it’s efficient: Why burn a lot of calories actually doing anything to help individual victims, when you can just take down a statue?

 The Freeh report issued in early July highlighted in detail the transgressions of named administrators at the university. It was thorough and compelling. It also was not part of the judicial process. Neither was it part of the usual NCAA process. That’s not to say it wasn’t accurate, but even Judge Freeh would likely not claim his report is a substitute for an evidentiary hearing and our adversarial system. Yet many sweeping decisions with lasting effects are being based on it.

After the Philadelphia Catholic Priest trial, society is sending another message: We are so angry about child abuse that we are going to hold not only the perpetrator liable, but we’re also going after middle management too. That new assistant manager job at the supermarket doesn’t look nearly as appealing any more, does it? Because if the guy who slices cheese at the deli counter is harboring kiddie porn, his boss might find a jury adjudging his own criminal ignorance for supervising this employee.

T he punishment handed down by the NCAA was not within the NCAA’s jurisdiction. The NCAA exists to ensure a level playing field. I am still waiting to hear how mishandling the Sandusky situation helped Penn State sign one top recruit. How did allegedly harboring a child molester give Penn State a tangible advantage on the gridiron? How did the acts of a few specific bureaucrats negate the wins of thousands of innocent player-athletes? But again, our declining Roman Empire demands public execution once we give our collective thumbs-down. Instead of feeding Christians to the lions, however, we’re flogging blameless students and athletes and destroying an entire university because of the acts of, at most, a handful of numbskulls.

A s in ancient civilizations, perhaps the greatest threat to the marketplace of ideas is the suppression of the untrendy opinion. Don’t stand for it in modern times. If you don’t agree with the NCAA’s mass sanction-cide, don’t preface or caveat your opinion with “I don’t agree with child abuse,” or “I don’t agree with what the administrators did.” No one should assume that your dissent with the NCAA’s action is tantamount to an endorsement of child abuse. You may find that many others feel the same way as you do, but remain silent, for fear of being socially sanctioned, or maybe just being fed to the lions. I guess we can at least say, as a society, that we’ve moved on from actual, human sacrifice … that is, until someone makes a reality show out of it.  

- Attorney Danny Cevallos, of Philly-based Cevallos & Wong, also writes weekly for Metro.us


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