Penn State: A lack of institutional control

“Lack of institutional control.”

It’s a term that’s tossed around a lot these days when it comes Division I athletics.

Institutional control is defined by the NCAA committee on infractions in a six-page PDF file that explains compliance to the organization’s rules and regulations:

But it’s something that can easily be incorporated into our everyday lexicon. We see it in our managers at work. We see it in households, sometimes in our own. We see it in our bank accounts and in our communities.

We see what happens as a result of an absence of accountability.

Things fall apart because of mismanagement, a sequence of personal choices or a lack of checks and balances.

And it’s fully on display at Penn State.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno with the Penn State football team, was arrested over the weekend on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over the course of 15 years. The grand jury’s findings are some of the most disturbing and sickening I’ve ever read, as a journalist and as an individual.

This transcends everything and every argument that is being made either for or against Penn State right now – the Penn Staters who are flailing away in an attempt to defend their school and their program (really, there’s no use now), the holier-than-thou iconoclasts who believe that this is another example of universities putting too much stock in their athletic programs and not enough into their educational resources. (Look up Penn State’s annual academic endowment some time.)

Penn State wanted the assembled media at today’s press conference to focus only on Saturday’s football game against Nebraska. Nothing else. No questions about the tornado that’s surrounded Happy Valley.

And when it became clear that the media wasn’t going to follow Penn State’s edict, the school’s president abruptly cancelled the weekly press conference.

A memo to Penn State: Your attempt at damage control won’t help anyone now. And it’s not helping your institution.

No reporter in their right mind was going follow this joke of a gag order.

Instead, Joe Paterno should now take it upon himself to speak out. Not only to defend himself but to explain his actions and the sequence of events that led us, led his football team and led his institution to this point. And to apologize for the mess this has caused Penn State.

For the boys – who are now young men – whose lives have been profoundly changed as a result of Jerry Sandusky’s disturbing and sickening behavior – I am saddened for them and for their families. Even more so now that the trauma has to be publicly rehashed for every one of them.

For Penn State, I’m just angry. Angry that this was allowed to happen for so long. Angry that Joe Paterno didn’t call the police. Angry that Mike McQueary didn’t speak up any louder when he saw what he saw. Angry that administrators seemed to turn the other way.

Angry that right now, Penn State’s administration and its sports information department is making a vain, pathetic attempt to muzzle the media at a point where this story is the biggest one not just in sports but the biggest story in the nation.

Joe Paterno is the most visible figure Penn State has – before this week, chances are that more people outside of Happy Valley could identify Joe Paterno than Penn State’s president Graham P. Spanier.

Joe Paterno has the chance to control this situation, somehow. He has the chance to publicly hold someone accountable. Maybe the institution that’s employed him for so long. Maybe even himself.


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