Debate Right, 7/31

Socialization of Punishment Harms Penn State Students

by Mark Luedtke

The actions government agents, the Penn State regents and the NCAA have taken against Penn State students in the wake of revelations about Jerry Sandusky’s serial assault of young boys is deplorable. From the moment Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly decided to call a press conference instead of allowing the police investigation to run its normal course, this scandal has been about politicians and their cronies taking advantage of Penn State for personal gain. Whenever a prosecutor grandstands in front of the press, it’s always about political gain, never justice.

The politicization of Sandusky’s crimes escalated when Penn State’s regents hired one of Washington’s most publicly exposed corrupt officials, ex-FBI director Louis Freeh, to conduct what was euphemistically called an internal investigation. I don’t think there was anything internal about it.

Louis Freeh was the FBI director under Bill Clinton. It was on his watch that the FBI illegally delivered hundreds of raw background files on political enemies of Clinton to the White House so that Clinton could use them to blackmail his rivals. It was during Freeh’s tenure that massive corruption in the FBI crime lab was exposed then covered up in whitewashed internal investigation.

The only reason the Penn State regents would hire such a well-known, corrupt political hack is if external politicians had decreed it. The only reason the regents would throw their institution under the bus is to save their own skins. Kelly, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan or somebody else must have made the regents an offer they couldn’t refuse: produce a sham report that blames the institution of Penn State and makes the politicians look good or risk personal criminal investigation.

Freeh did exactly what he was supposed to do: blame the institution and Paterno while criminally absolving the regents. But institutions don’t make decisions. Institutions don’t act. Individuals do.

Of course NCAA officials couldn’t resist piling on. They slammed Penn State with unprecedented punishment to make themselves look good too. The only problem is the NCAA has no power to impose these punishments. Universities voluntarily empower the NCAA to enforce specific rules for fairness in competition. Sure, NCAA officials act more like little Napoleons than fairness arbiters whenever they get a chance to flex their muscles, but they have no rules regarding child molestation. Sandusky’s crimes had no impact on the fairness of competition.

Jim Picht at The Washington Times accurately calls this a culture of lawlessness, “The NCAA decision was arbitrary and lawless, even by the standards of the NCAA.” But Picht doesn’t go far enough. This attack on Penn State has been lawless from the beginning. Kelly’s initial press conference undermined and politicized the criminal investigation, and since then this whole fiasco has been about personal and political gain at the expense of the law and justice. This story illustrates the pervasive lawlessness and cronyism of our rulers. Holier-than-thou regents who should have been investigated and probably fired if not prosecuted walk free and continue in their privileged jobs. Politicians pat each other on the back for successfully corrupting the investigation for personal gain. But innocent Penn State students, especially the football players, are suffering the punishment of the media and the NCAA. None of this serves the interest of justice.

Jerry Sandusky’s crimes are horrific, but that’s no excuse for punishing the students at Penn State. Two wrongs do not make a right. It’s telling that none of these extrajudicial punishments help the victims.

The NCAA threatened worse penalties if the regents rejected these, but the Big Ten should have stood up for Penn State students. That didn’t happen. At least the conference is putting Penn State’s bowl money toward protecting children from sexual abuse. I look forward to the day when politicians can no longer use this situation for personal gain so rational people can revisit it and hopefully undo some of the damage done to Joe Paterno’s legacy and Penn State’s reputation.

Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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