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Penn State Students Bear Brunt of NCAA Sanctions for Sandusky Cover-Up as Trustees Emerge Unscathed

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The governing body of U.S. college sports Monday announced a series of unprecedented sanctions against Penn State University following an independent investigation into the widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA leveled penalties including a fine of $60 million, a reduction of student-athlete scholarships, and a vacating of all wins of the Penn State football team from 1998 to 2011. We’re joined by Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine and host of Edge of Sports Radio. Zirin says the sanctions will punish Penn State students while sparing top officials, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who has drawn criticism for his handling of the Sandusky investigation while serving as the state’s attorney general and preparing for a gubernatorial run. “We’re attacking 18-year-old scholarship athletes and making them pay the price, when people in power have not really had to be affected or afflicted by the horrible crimes that took place in Happy Valley,” Zirin says. “I do not trust the NCAA to be [the] adjudicating body, for the simple reason that their very existence ensures more cover-ups and more scandals in the future.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The governing body of U.S. college sports Monday announced a series of sanctions against Penn State University following an independent investigation into the widespread cover-up of allegations of child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. A scathing report found the school’s legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who died in January, and other senior school officials hid the sexual molestation allegations against Sandusky 14 years before they finally came to light last year. Sandusky was finally arrested last year and found guilty of sexually abusing 10 young boys last month. Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, announced the punitive measures Monday.

MARK EMMERT: The NCAA is imposing a fine of $60 million on the university with the funds to be used to establish an endowment to support programs around the nation that serve the victims of child sexual abuse and seek to prevent such abuse from happening. This amount is the equivalent of one year’s gross revenue of the football team. Second, Penn State football will be banned from bowl games and any other post-season play for four years. Third, Penn State’s football team will have its initial scholarships reduced from 25 to 15 per year for a period of four years.

AMY GOODMAN: Other sanctions announced by the NCAA include vacating all wins of the Penn State football team from 1998 to 2011 and a five-year probationary period for the university’s athletic program. The NCAA is also reserving the right to initiate a formal investigation and disciplinary procedure and to impose penalties on individuals involved in the case after criminal proceedings have concluded.

The NCAA’s announcement came hours after Penn State University removed a now infamous bronze statue of Paterno from outside the school’s football stadium. In a statement, Penn State said, “Were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.”

To talk more about the case and the sanctions against Penn State University, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine and host of Edge of Sports on radio, Sirius/XM. He is author of a number of books, including Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love. Most recently, he assisted John Carlos in writing his memoir, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment that Changed the World.

Dave Zirin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of these NCAA sanctions and what it means that the NCAA didn’t give Penn State what the sports world is calling the death penalty.

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, the significance is that it is absolutely unprecedented. And it’s unprecedented in a way that I think should be very frightening for Democracy Now! listeners. I think one of the things that maybe will allow people to understand this is, think about Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine. I mean, what happened at Penn State was absolutely horrible, and many of us—there is no book big enough to throw at Penn State, no punishment too great that we would like to see the school suffer. And yet that is why we have civil and criminal courts. What the NCAA did was something they have never done in their history, which is involve themselves in a criminal manner and punish a school unilaterally for the purposes of their own brand rehabilitation.

And if you look at what actually resulted from what the NCAA did yesterday, this is what they really did. They removed scholarships from people who were four years old when Jerry Sandusky retired. So, they actually hurt dozens of young students who had nothing to do with this whatsoever. They ignored the role of the board of trustees, including the sitting governor, Tom Corbett, and the role that they may have played in the state of Pennsylvania in covering up Sandusky’s crimes for the purposes of protecting Penn State football. As I said, they intervened in a criminal and civil case for the first time, and somehow we’re supposed to think this is OK. And the NCAA, which is a private, nonprofit institution, reached into a public campus, Penn State, and removed $60 million from its budget. Now, that, to me, is a precedent which should actually, I think, set our teeth on edge, because I—this is a subject that you have covered on Democracy Now! in a number of different guises, but it’s this idea of private, unaccountable forces, like the NCAA in this case, acting without oversight and with the kind of heavy hand that precludes any semblance of democratic oversight.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, first, let us go through these sanctions, each one, what they are, and especially for people who are not sports fans, who don’t understand what each of these sanctions are.

DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely. The sanctions are extreme. I mean, the first one, the $60 million that I already described, what that is going to mean, it’s going to mean that sports across the campus that are not revenue-producing sports, like the women’s sports program at Penn State University, that’s not going to get the funding that it needs. It’s going to mean that a lot of people are going to try to leave Penn State in the next year and try to find scholarships elsewhere, which will, if they get them, deprive people on other campuses of athletic scholarships.

The other sanction, which we haven’t discussed yet, is the vacating of all the wins that the Penn State football program completed from 1998 to 2011. These wins just didn’t happen. I mean, it’s kind of a bizarre thing that the NCAA does. They have stricken these wins from the record book. And what that does is it further punctures the legend of Joe Paterno, the late coach, because he no longer is now the winningest coach in NCAA history. Now, automatically, with a snap of their fingers, he’s the 12th winningest coach in NCAA history. And as one of the players tweeted out—this is a player who—Adam Taliaferro, he has a metal plate in his neck. He said, “I guess this metal plate doesn’t exist, either, in my neck, because that—the game that I was in where I got it just never happened.”

But the biggest blow that really takes place is—it’s the biggest blow, I think—is it’s the blow to the basic idea that a public university can have its own process to deal with these matters and that the civil and criminal courts are the primary force that deals with criminal matters as they take place. That’s what really was punctured yesterday by the NCAA. And unfortunately, what this does is it ensures more scandals in the future, because I would argue that it’s the very setup of the NCAA, the very setup of a multi-billion-dollar entity, that builds its money on the idea of turning coaches into deities, turning football programs into too-big-to-fail operations, and turning players into basically unpaid campus workers as opposed to student athletes. That’s the root of the problem here.

AMY GOODMAN: At a news conference Monday announcing the sanctions on Penn State, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the steps were in line with the mandate of the organization.

MARK EMMERT: Our constitution and bylaws make it perfectly clear that the association exists not simply to promote fair play on the field but to insist that athletic programs provide positive moral models for our students, enhance the integrity of higher education, and promote the values of civility, honesty and responsibility. The sanctions we are imposing are based upon these most fundamental principles of the NCAA.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Dave Zirin?

DAVE ZIRIN: I mean, if this whole case wasn’t so tragic, I would be laughing too hard to respond to what Mark Emmert just said. I mean, the NCAA started a hundred years ago by Teddy Roosevelt, because too many students were dying on football fields, particularly in the Ivy Leagues, and it was created to create a uniform code of conduct and a uniform rules for collegiate sports. It has since morphed into this kind of operation where they negotiate $10.8 billion television deals, where they sell the likenesses of players to video games, where they sell the likenesses of players on credit cards for well-heeled boosters. This is what the NCAA has become.

And far too many colleges, under the NCAA’s auspices, have become the sort of place where the games exist on Saturday, and that’s what the school is basically a life-support system for these football games, and Monday through Friday is just you take classes to wait for the next game. I mean, W.E.B. Du Bois talked about this a century ago, about the way big-time college sports actually pervert the mission of college campuses. And Mark Emmert’s $1.6 million-a-year salary and his 14 vice presidents, each of whom make at least $400,000 a year, it’s all built on the idea of football programs becoming too big to fail. And that’s why I would argue that what they did yesterday was much more about the NCAA’s brand rehabilitation than anything that has to do with justice for Sandusky’s victims.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about those victims. Earlier this month, in an investigative report examining what happened at Penn State, former FBI director Louis Freeh said the university’s leadership had allowed Jerry Sandusky’s abuse to continue.

LOUIS FREEH: Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. Misters Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the board of trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any other action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them ever spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done, and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former FBI director Louis Freeh, who led the investigation. Dave Zirin, let us take a step back and go through what actually happened, what Sandusky did, what he did, when it was known, and when it was covered up.

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, at this point, there only is what we know, and I still think there is a lot that we don’t know. But what we know for sure is that, starting in 1998, Jerry Sandusky was asked to leave Penn State football. He was given, as Louis Freeh discovered in his useful report, a $169,000 severance check to leave Penn State. And it was starting then, in 1998, that Joe Paterno; the school president, Graham Spanier; the head of campus security, a gentleman named Gary Schultz; and Tim Curley, who is the school athletic director, went through a process of covering up Jerry Sandusky’s horrible serial child rape, and then did so over the course of the next 14 years, really, until this all came to light in the last year.

And the thing about Freeh’s report, though, which is so problematic is—it is very useful in many respects, but it goes very, very hard after Joe Paterno, who’s already dead, Graham Spanier, who’s been fired, and Shultz and Curley, who are already indicted. It does not look at the role of the sitting board of trustees. One member of the board of trustees has since resigned, but the rest of them are still sitting pretty on top of the Penn State pyramid. I think that they all should go, and I think any sane look at this says that there was—they were derelict in their duty in terms of their leadership of the school.

And then there’s sitting Governor Tom Corbett right now, and this is a big story in Pennsylvania. It’s not a big national story, and this is a real problem. Tom Corbett is currently on the board of trustees. He’s the former—

AMY GOODMAN: He’s the Pennsylvania governor.

DAVE ZIRIN: Yes. He is the former state’s attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania. Over the course of two years, he had the information about Jerry Sandusky, and, based on who you believe, he either assigned one person to the case or his office responds and says, “That’s an outrage! We’ve actually assigned—we actually assigned two people to the case.” And over two years, they basically did nothing. It’s called in Pennsylvania the slow walking indictment. And the reason why that a lot of people, including entities like ESPN, which is hardly Democracy Now!, why they have inferred that why he did this was that he was in the process of raising a lot of money for his gubernatorial run from Penn State alums and from the board of Jerry Sandusky’s charity, Second Mile. He held fundraisers without alerting Second Mile that Jerry Sandusky was under investigation at the head of the board of directors of this incredibly large child charity service called Second Mile. And the idea that Tom Corbett has not had—

AMY GOODMAN: And how much did he raise?

DAVE ZIRIN: The idea that Tom Corbett has not had to answer for these questions is very problematic to a lot of people in Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to earlier this month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett defended himself against accusations that the three-year investigation should have been opened and concluded earlier. Corbett launched the criminal investigation against Sandusky, as you said, Dave, while he was attorney general of Pennsylvania.

GOV. TOM CORBETT: There has been criticism in the past of why we didn’t charge—why I didn’t charge right after the very first report, and that would be the young man from Clinton County. And I think it’s clear now, and especially if you talk to victim advocates and people that have done this kind of work, that—very hard in a one-on-one case. But when you present a series of victims and a consistency in the testimony—not absolute consistency but consistency in demonstrating the modus operandi, for want of a better term, of Mr.—


GOV. TOM CORBETT: Sandusky, thank you. I’m trying to block the name out.

BRAD CHRISTMAN: I don’t blame you. I think a lot of—we all are, yeah.

GOV. TOM CORBETT: That this investigation was conducted in order to get somebody off the street, not to lose the investigation, and we were successful.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Dave Zirin, your response?

DAVE ZIRIN: My response is that he needs to explain the $650,000—and once again, I get that number from ESPN—that he raised from the board of directors of Jerry Sandusky’s foundation, Second Mile, while he was running for governor. My response is to ask why more investigators weren’t put on this incredibly important case. And when you look at the degree to which Penn State football—and this is part of the problem. It’s so hegemonic culturally in this section of Pennsylvania, so hegemonic financially, so hegemonic emotionally, culturally, and the fact that it really looks like Tom Corbett did not want to really go there, even if it meant the fact that more children could be victimized over the course of his investigation.

What’s most problematic to me, Amy, is that Tom Corbett played a huge role in getting Louis Freeh to do this investigation. He vouched for Louis Freeh. He considers Louis Freeh a friend. And the idea that Tom Corbett has not had to answer himself, under subpoena, for why he did what he did, I mean, it’s one of those things where—look who we’re attacking right now. We’re attacking 18-year-old scholarship athletes and making them pay the price, when people in power have not really had to be affected or afflicted by the horrible crimes that took place in Happy Valley.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, explain the significance of the Second Mile foundation and the significance of Sandusky having—Sandusky having to leave Penn State but given the rights to the locker room, where he was witnessed, time and again, raping boys.

DAVE ZIRIN: No, I’m glad you mentioned that. And this has to be a part of the story, because Second Mile started as a small children’s charity for underprivileged children that was started by Jerry Sandusky. He wrote a book about why this charity was going to become his life’s work after he left football. The book, disturbingly enough, was self-published, and it’s called Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story. And people have wondered whether that was part of his own just horrible approach to children, is why he called it—called it Touched. Jerry Sandusky was somebody who then took this children’s charity, Second Mile, and turned it into something, through his connections at Penn State, that was this incredibly powerful entity, this incredibly powerful nonprofit, that had its tentacles reach throughout the state of Pennsylvania. And it also looks like it was the place where Jerry Sandusky chose his victims, on the basis of how vulnerable they were, on the basis of how poor their economic situation was, on the basis of them not having other adults in their lives who would listen to them. I mean, it’s about—I mean, reading through the court testimony as Sandusky’s trial took place—and he was convicted on 45 of 48 counts, 700 years behind bars—it couldn’t have been more diabolical, and it couldn’t have been more disturbing about how these children were exploited over the course of so many years.

And Second Mile was also something that was supported greatly by Penn State University. And it looks to be very much that it was a condition of keeping what Sandusky was doing quiet was making sure that the charity was funded and making sure it would kind of just be kept quiet and all go away, for the purposes of protecting the brand of the football program. I mean, this is banality of evil writ large. I mean, you have this horrible monster at the center of it in Jerry Sandusky, and then you have layers and layers and layers of people in power who were scared about what his scandal would do to them, even if the collateral damage was small children. And it’s this horror show, why a lot of people, I think, are celebrating what the NCAA did. But I would turn back once again to the Naomi Klein concept of The Shock Doctrine, and really we should be worried about the kind of power that the NCAA is assuming in what really should be a criminal and civil matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Jerry Sandusky, in his own words. In November, he spoke with NBC’s Bob Costas in his first interview after he was charged.

JERRY SANDUSKY: I am innocent of those charges.

BOB COSTAS: Innocent? Completely innocent and falsely accused in every aspect?

JERRY SANDUSKY: Well, I could say that, you know, I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I’ve—I have touched their legs, without intent of sexual contact.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jerry Sandusky. Final thoughts on this day, Dave Zirin?

DAVE ZIRIN: I mean, my final thoughts is—I mean, we have civil and criminal courts for a reason. And we can all hope and pray that Sandusky’s victims get justice and that they take as large a piece out of Penn State University’s $1.8 billion endowment as possible, but I do not trust the NCAA to be that adjudicating body, for the simple reason that their very existence ensures more cover-ups and more scandals in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, I want to thank you for being with us, sports columnist for The Nation, host of Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius/XM, author of a number of books, including Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love. His most recent book with John Carlos is John Carlos’s memoir, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment that Changed the World. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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