The recent sanctions levied against Penn State by the NCAA because of the school’s inaction in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal were severe. Fined $60 million, stripped of its football program of 40 scholarships and banned from playing in a bowl game for the next four seasons, Penn State will certainly suffer the economic consequences for many, many years. Other consequences, however, have a much different flavor.
Penn State was also ordered to vacate its 112 football victories from 1998 to 2011, stripping Paterno of being the sport’s all-time winningest coach. Those wins occurred and the players who took part in them do not deserve to suffer collateral damage from Paterno’s actions off the field. This action also reeks of historical revisionism, a once favorite tool of the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain. Re-writing history and erasing facts is a bad precedent to set.
Paterno, the man, made a huge mistake and deserves to suffer consequences. Removing his statue from the Penn State campus angered many alumni, but it does remove much of the iconic aura he once had and can be rationalized as a post-mortem punishment for his actions. Paterno, the coach, had achievements that are tied forever with other players and coaches who deserve no punishment. Those achievements are real and pretending they are not is foolish.
Thomas Jefferson’s reputation is currently under siege because he once owned slaves. Historical revisionism could someday erase his name from the Declaration of Independence. Although that may certainly seem extreme, it is not unimaginable. Allowing historical revisionism to occur at any level keeps that seed alive. Erasing Joe Paterno’s football victories only waters the seed. That cannot be a good thing.
David J. Hentosh