Someone at Penn State said that nobody should be judged by the worst thing they did in their lives.
For most of us, I'd agree with that. But there are exceptions. Should John Wilkes Booth be thought of as a great Shakespearean actor? Should Lee Harvey Oswald be remembered for his community organizing work?
The idea that some how Joe Paterno should be remembered for loving opera and making (now obviously disingenuous) statements about how he cared about more than just winning football games, and that covering up for a pedophile and doing nothing to stop the rapes of children should be relegated to a "mistake" is just beyond ridiculous.
One of the most troubling things that happened over the weekend was that students gathered around the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium to make sure it wasn't defaced before the university finally got around to taking it down. I wouldn't be for vandalizing the statue, but protecting the image of a guy who covered up for a pedophile? What are they teaching on that campus? What kind of value system permeates Happy Valley?
Right or wrong, nothing short of the "death penalty" for Penn State football was going to be thought of as sufficient to punish a program that put winning football games above common human decency.
From my point of view, the message sent by the official NCAA sanctions will probably get lost in its details, while the "death penalty" would have sent a simple, strong message to people who are only casual sports fans, which encompasses most of us.
The NCAA president said all the right things about restoring football to its proper place at Penn State, but he missed the core issue.
It is that, while we hope Sandusky's kind of depravity was isolated, the culture that kept it a secret for a decade is rampant everywhere in Division I college football and other major sports.
The NCAA likes to say it's concerned about "lack of institutional control." But what's needed are not just sanctions on Penn State, but a reassertion of institutional control on big-time college athletics everywhere.
This can only happen by gaining control of the money. It's telling that the first sanction announced was Penn State's forfeiture of $60 million, the equivalent of its income from football every year. That $60 million (and the equivalent of it on the UW-Madison and at dozens of others schools) is the root of the problem. With that much money on the table, and the fact that some of it gets used to fund other sports that don't produce revenues, winning college football coaches and athletic directors become all but untouchable on their campuses.
Fundamentally, that's what went wrong at Penn State. It will continue to go wrong until the academics who are supposed to be running college campuses get real control over the money.