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

Sports writer David Zirin argues that the NCAA's unprecedented punishment harms innocent students but lets trustees off the hook.


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  NCAAin this case, acting without oversight and with the kind of heavy hand that precludes any semblance of democratic oversight.

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