Letter to Mark Emmert

Subject: Penn State


Mr. Emmert:

I wanted to write you to give you the perspective of a Penn State alumni regarding the Sandusky situation. My goal is not to discuss if there were bylaw violations or issues with institutional control. I am quite sure lawyers and people familiar with those can make a compelling case either way. It is likely that this issue will not come down to bylaw infractions anyway. Most likely this will be decided based on public perception and a desire to see “justice”. Many have been speculating that this can only come by some form of the “death penalty”. I believe this course of action would do more harm than good and cause harm to entities that are tangentially involved with Penn State at best.

First, I wanted to address the “culture of reverence” for football that is frequently cited by news sources from the Freeh Report. While you would be hard pressed to find alumni that are not in some way interested in football, this is most certainly not what defines us. Recently a co-worker asked me about the Information Sciences and Technology major in regards to an employee that was looking to transfer to our group. I spent roughly 45 minutes discussing the structure of the major and how great this program is in preparing someone for our discipline. My point in relaying this is that as proud as we are of our football team, we are just as proud, if not more so, of the academic aspects of Penn State. Additionally, our football team is not simply a bunch of athletes to us. We are also proud of their academic and volunteer accomplishments too, which are numerous. If people wish to discuss how society in general has elevated sports too much, that is one thing. But to say that we are the worst offenders in regard to revering a sport or saying that football is all that Penn Staters are concerned with is being quite short sighted.

Another thing to consider in this matter is the impacts that such a punishment would levy. I will not debate the merit of punishing current players and coaches for the actions of those long gone. NCAA rules are setup to punish the institution and infrequently, from what I have seen, punish those who actually perpetrated the issue. Whether this is a good idea or not is not part of this discussion. Instead, consider where Penn State is located. In the central Pennsylvania region there is literally nothing but Penn State. To remove football from the area would impact businesses and communities that are at best tangentially related to Penn State, but likely have no ties at all other than being in the same zip code. They are no more responsible for this than a person located in Athens, Ohio, but likely will be significantly impacted without those games. A recent economic estimate suggested that a home football game brings roughly $70 million of economic benefit to the area. These small businesses likely depend on those weekends for their continued existence. Harming them serves no purpose.

Please also consider both the University response and the Alumni response in the wake of this situation. Penn State commissioned an independent group to investigate what happened, why and what corrective actions that need to be taken. The report ended up being scathing as far as Penn State is concerned. Penn State also created a child abuse center attached to its Hershey Medical School. Shortly after the indictment against Sandusky, Penn Staters raised $500,000 in a single week for an abuse charity, RAINN. Alumni also had the largest participation ever in the election of the Board of Trustees. I bring these points up to illustrate that Penn Staters are not taking this lightly and not simply giving lip service to corrective actions that need to be taken. These are responses of people who are looking to do their best to improve themselves and do what can be done to rectify a horrific situation. No one involved with Penn State wants to see anything even remotely similar ever happen again. In Penn State you have a community committed to righting wrongs as best as can possibly be done and being an agent of change for the better.

If the “death penalty” is about punishment for a wrong, consider that Penn State is being investigated by the NCAA, the State of Pennsylvania, the US Department of Education, the Big Ten and I believe the State of Texas may be lumped in there as well. In addition to investigations, criminal charges have been levied against people who were respected members of our community. Others have had their once sterling name destroyed. Penn State has had its brand shattered. What was once considered a paragon of virtue is now a punchline and a source of hate for those who are not part of the Penn State community. At this point, additional punishment will only harm the educational mission of Penn State.
If the “death penalty” is about ensuring that an example is made of us so that another institution takes action in the future, please review the previous paragraph. If all that is not enough to deter any organization from reporting a crime, especially one as heinous as pedophilia, I highly doubt removing a sports program or crippling it significantly will serve as any additional deterrent.

I understand that someone other than you will likely read this, but I still wanted to make my case regardless. At the beginning of this letter I said this would likely come down to public perception and attempting to achieve “justice”. Based on the amount of articles coming out regarding Penn State, I doubt any action short of the complete and utter destruction of Penn State, not just the football team, would satisfy this group. Given this, I urge you to take a more measured approach than what is being recommended. You admitted that this is an unprecedented scandal. I agree and rather than use something that has a precedent like the “death penalty”, I urge you to work with Penn State to determine a positive way to handle this issue rather than shutting down the football program. As stated above, Penn State can be a force for good. Let’s find a solution that helps put that good front and center.

Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.

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