Penn State’s forgotten victims

Beyond the Penn State scandal

2 minute read
Nat Holman's CCNY teams (above, in 1954) were tarred by a point-shaving scandal long after the rogue players departed.
Nat Holman's CCNY teams (above, in 1954) were tarred by a point-shaving scandal long after the rogue players departed.
When I played college basketball in the late 1950s, our trainer came around to team members at the time of our pre-game meal and handed each of us a small red pill. He told us it was "a vitamin" and would "reach maximum potency in a couple of hours."

None of us noted any improvement in our performance, and for all I know it was a vitamin. But we were college students and he was an adult authority figure; who were we to question his judgment?

But looking back on the experience, it was indicative of the kinds of practices that we athletes accepted without question and which have evolved into the manner in which sex abuse by coaches has apparently been taken for granted recently at big-time college athletic programs like Penn State and Syracuse.

Children and athletes victimized by sex-abusing coaches surely deserve our vigorous support. But another class of victims has been overlooked: the individual Penn State athletes who knock themselves out each week in practice sessions and games and whose reputations will now be sullied by their association with a scandalized program.

I'm reminded of an experience I had as a juror on a financial fraud case in the 1980s. The prosecutor tried to undermine a defendant's credibility by tying him to a college basketball team that had thrown games and controlled point-spread margins a quarter-century earlier. Similarly, today's Penn State athletes must be prepared for long-term attachment in the public mind to the debacle.

Will the scandals and investigations at Penn State and Syracuse lead to reforms of big-time sports programs? Given the dire financial condition of many colleges and universities, it's hard to see how major revenue-generating sports like football (especially) and basketball can be reined in, especially given the significant evidence that high-level success in those major sports has a positive effect on overall fund raising and general alumni support.

Anything that might jeopardize a highly valued sports program is likely to receive rapid response damage control treatment. The pressure to reform college sports may be great right now; but the pressure to refine the art and science of the cover-up, I fear, is even greater.

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