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Penn State football deserves more than the ‘death penalty’

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.

If I were the one making the decision, Penn State football would not get the NCAA’s ‘death penalty.’

Some of you are now probably glad that I’m not the one making that decision. The death penalty — the NCAA’s ability to ban a school from competing in a sport for at least one year — is the harshest penalty that an NCAA school can receive.

But it is too light of a sentence for the atrocities that took place on the Penn State campus, not to mention the extent that Penn State powers-that-be took to cover up the scandal.

Since last November when the details of Jerry Sandusky’s disgusting spree of sexual child abuse could no longer be hidden, the fate of Penn State football has been college football’s hot topic.

And the vitriol of the debate and discussion of the proper punishment for the Big Ten Conference school only increased after the 267-page ‘Freeh Report’ was released on July 12.

The former United States district court judge and FBI agent’s findings virtually unloaded on the late coach Joe Paterno, ex-university president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz for what they did — or didn’t do —- to help perpetuate the Sandusky sickness.

I read a majority of the report. I skimmed through the summary accounts of some of the over 3 million e-mails that characterized an administrative cover up at the highest levels of the school’s hierarchy of leadership. I saw the blatant attempts at trying to keep the outward image of Penn State clean, while inwardly it was rotting at the core.

Moreover, after reading the report, I went back to read some of the victims’ testimonies during Sandusky’s recent court hearings. And while I couldn’t hear the voices, the pain of their words seemed audible as they described the way Sandusky’s abuse scarred them for life.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

I didn’t need the Freeh Report to determine that Penn State’s fate would not be best represented by the NCAA’s death penalty. All I needed was an overall understanding of the behemoth that has become college football to understand the real problem.

The death penalty has only been exacted by the NCAA five times, and only once for a major college football program.

Some remember the pay-for-play scandal that rocked Southern Methodist University’s football program in the late 1980s. That case, however, was different from the Penn State saga, because the immorality that corroded SMU football was a joint effort between administration and athlete.

In fact, each of the five death penalty instances share that characteristic — collective wrong doing from those both on and off the field.

At Penn State, as far as we know, no traces of athlete involvement exist in the Sandusky case. There are no reported instances of any athlete having known anything about what Sandusky was allowed to do to these boys, often right on the Penn State campus.

If the NCAA decides to throw down the gauntlet on Penn State football, it will probably cite a lack of internal or institutional control as its reason. And yes, there are many examples of such.

But, if the NCAA is to be consistent with how it has doled out its most extreme punishment in the past, they’d better drag up some hidden pieces of student-athlete drama to add to the puzzle.

Otherwise, (and unlike each of the five death penalty instances) the NCAA would be punishing student-athletes who have absolutely nothing to do with the mess that JoePa and company worked so hard to cover up over the last 15 years.

The purpose of the death penalty is not only to punish institutional wrongdoing but to also purge the wrongdoers from the scene. What would be the purpose of cleaning house at Penn State now when everybody who has been attributed to this fiasco has already been removed?

The only people being punished then would be a bunch of athletes, coaches and university personnel who had nothing to do with the garbage that has gripped our attention over the last 10 months.

I agree with the sentiments of Eagle’s Landing football coach Joe Teknipp who recently weighed in on the matter.

“Yes it deserves a punishment that’s harsh, but make the penalty so the kids don’t suffer,” he said. “If the death penalty is for the wrongdoers, then fine. But kids have already suffered enough in this situation.”

Shutting down Penn State football alone is a very poor punishment for the crime because it makes this more about football than about the lives of hurting people.

If you want to punish Penn State, punish the entire university. Spanier, as president and Curley, as athletic director, were Paterno’s bosses. But they let Paterno call the shots. Why? Because of the obsession with cash cow college football.

Spanier’s role was to protect the interests of an entire university — not just those of his iconic football coach. Curley’s job was to protect the well-being of all Penn State athletics. Not just the sport that greased the most palms and lined the most pockets.

We’re talking about taking away football teams and removing statues of coaches.

Stop making this about football.

Stop and realize how petty and unimportant football is when juxtaposed to the emotional torment of at least 10 men who will never view life or relationships the same again — all because of one man’s twisted desire for boys, and a few other men’s twisted desire for football.

Take away Penn State’s accreditation. Provide current athletes opportunities to transfer their scholarships to the school of their choice. Make Penn State an example to other big-named schools that would dare fall to the temptation of putting big-time college athletics over the well-being of human souls.

I enjoy college football as much as the next person. Maybe even more. But when statues and coaches and bowl games and scholarships and championships and wins and losses take priority over the sanctity of human decency, then we have problems that far transcend anything sports-related.

We can blame coaches all we’d like, but the truth is the football programs are only feeding the appetites of hungry fans who want more. More wins, more titles more five-star recruits enrolling in their favorite universities.

What will a football death penalty at Penn State really solve?

The only thing that deserves a death penalty is America’s unhealthy obsession with college kids and the games they play.

Gabriel Stovall is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1.