After NCAA President Mark Emmert read the list of punishments against Penn State football today, so much of the conversation focused on whether the sanctions were too harsh or too lenient. Analysts were debating the effect the four-year bowl ban & reduction in scholarships will have on the team. People were discussing Joe Paterno’s legacy and how vacating wins means he’s lost the title of winningest college football coach. Yet, we’re missing the point.
The point is that a sick and twisted man took advantage of his close proximity to children and continually abused them and that those around him did nothing & said nothing even though they were well aware of the abuse. The point is that the terrible crimes committed against Sandusky’s victims must never happen again and that we all need to learn how to prevent and detect child sex abuse.
That’s why I applaud Emmert for stating first that Penn State must pay $60 million, the equivalent of one year’s revenue from the football program, to help child sex abuse victims. This punishment takes the focus off the football program and puts it back where it should be, on trying to eliminate child sex abuse. I spoke with officials at RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) after the ruling, and they said they were pleased with the NCAA’s announcement:
“I’m glad that the NCAA didn’t focus just on punishment, rather on helping survivors and preventing future attacks. It is very significant that the NCAA paid attention to the impact this case has had on survivors across the country. RAINN is the largest provider of services to sexual assault survivors in the nation, and we were already running at full capacity before this story broke last fall. Since then, the number of people getting help from the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline is up 47%. There is clearly still an overwhelming demand from survivors who still need help.”
Just as Emmert’s goal today was to shift focus from the football program and try to move forward, I believe the NCAA’s punishment reflects those goals. The bowl ban and scholarship reduction hopefully will get rid of Penn State’s “win at all costs” mentality. The penalties hopefully will change the culture at the school from one where the football program reigns supreme, above even morality, to one where, as an academic institution, educating and protecting our youth is the number one goal.
Yet, when everyone is done talking about Penn State’s football legacy, I hope the important conversation it sparked about the sad reality of child sex abuse does not fade away too. We need to keep the spotlight on this problem, and more importantly, on how to prevent it. To that note, Darkness 2 Light, a child sex abuse prevention organization, is trying to look forward and implement policies so that there is never again another Jerry Sandusky. How? They’re hoping to implement child sex abuse prevention programs at universities across the nation. The group is already in talks with Boise State and the University of North Carolina about enrolling school officials in a program called Stewards of Children. The two-hour program designed for anyone who works with children aims to help people prevent child sex abuse and protect children as well as recognize the signs and how to respond. The program teaches those enrolled how to set up simple policies to prevent child sex abuse, including understanding where kids are going to be sleeping, who the kids are interacting with and ensuring there’s no one child-one adult situations. The group says anytime you don’t have rules in place, it opens doors for predators, like Jerry Sandusky, to seek out these institutions. I applaud Darkness 2 Light for trying to move the Penn State story forward and focus not on what happened but how we can implement the lessons learned from it.
For more information, watch today’s Spreecast on the NCAA Penn State rulings and our interview with Darkness 2 Light.