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.Read the rest here.
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?