Tuesday, July 24, 2012

George Orwell and the N.C.A.A.

On Monday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association made a remarkable — and disturbing — decision. As one of the sanctions against Pennsylvania State University, it determined that all of Penn State’s football victories from 1998 to 2011 were to be “vacated.” Whoosh! As a result, Joe Paterno no longer holds the major college coaching record for career wins. Someone else now has that honor. George Orwell would be amused.

In his magnificent dystopia, “1984,” Orwell understood well the dangers of “history clerks.” Those given authority to write history can change the past. Those sweat-and-mud victories of the Nittany Lions — more points on the scoreboard — no longer exist. The winners are now the losers.

One might wonder whether the N.C.A.A.’s rush to judgment — a rush that ignored its own procedures of examining each case through the sanctions committee — was truly necessary. And one might question a set of sanctions whose human victims were not involved in the crimes. But let us put aside these niceties. Surely Penn State the institution deserves sanctions for the deplorable actions of authorities. Sometimes organizations are treated as people.

The more significant question is whether rewriting history is the proper answer. And while this is not the first time that game outcomes have been vacated, changing 14 seasons of football history is a unique and disquieting response. We learn bad things about people all the time, but should we change our history? Should we, like Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, have a Ministry of Truth that has the authority to scrub the past? Should our newspapers have to change their back files? And how far should we go? Should we review Babe Ruth’s records? Or O. J. Simpson’s? Should a disgraced senator have her votes vacated? Perhaps we should claim that Joe McCarthy actually lost his elections. Or give victory to John Edwards’s opponent?
Read the rest here.

7 comments:

Matushka Anna said...

Wow...that's...just, wow...

Eurasleep said...

The Soviets were experts at this sort of thing. Is that our fate in the US?

The young fogey said...

Having all that power, Paterno could have stopped Sandusky with one phone call. No matter his place on paper in the chain of command. Penn State's playbook: blame Paterno, then pretend he never was, then in three years pretend none of it happened. Its cult of football will go on in the long run.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I remain of the opinion that this was a purely State matter for civil and criminal redress. "Lack of institutional control," the only infraction the NCAA could come up with, is actually a criteria for determining if a rule violation warrants broader sanctions beyond the individuals involved. So far as I know, Penn State's program was run in scrupulous compliance with NCAA rules.

It is neither wrong nor shocking that the NCAA has no rule against pederasty--there's probably not one in Chic Fil-a's policy manuals either. So the NCAA is acting ultra vires. I'm not a sports lawyer, so maybe someone can provide a citation to an actual rule.

Stephen said...

Fogey - have you read the Freeh report? The only thing we know for certain that Paterno did was report the 1998 incident up the chain of command and to police; and it was the police who said we don't have a case. Oh, and who hired Freeh? The PSU board members. And whose dereliction of duty is not mentioned in the Freeh report? That of the PSU Board. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Btw., in case anyone is interested in the law in this discussion, in Pennsylvania, you are a criminal if you follow any other process but this one. That's the thing nobody talks about - you can't just call the police in PA in this sort of case if you are associated with an educational institution; the law says you must take it up the chain of command, or risk fines, penalties and even jail time.

The PSU Board and former President had been looking to throw Paterno out and under a bus for years; in their depths of their animus, they didn't realize that their conniving would take them all down.

sjgmore said...

The young fogey is absolutely right... really, this is just a *different* way of sweeping the scandal under the rug.

ochlophobist said...

As a devout Ohio State fan, I was not really all that amused to learn that an Ohio State - Penn State game, of which Ohio State's former victory had been vacated by the NCAA, is now a game that apparently never took place officially, as Penn State's victory that came via the vacating of Ohio State's victory has now itself been vacated.

This can get a bit confusing.