Punishment is our product—our only product!


The edicts of Chairman Nocera: Should the NCAA have punished Penn State in the ways it did?

We have mixed feelings on that one, especially since Jerry Sandusky is in prison, and several other major figures are facing criminal charges.

We rarely root for punishment here. In this case, we’ve been struck by the emphasis on punishment, as opposed to the desire for outreach, growth, reconciliation, learning—education.

More on that war below. Yesterday, in the New York Times, Joe Nocera was back on his punishment jag.

In our view, Nocera’s logic was striking. It’s “silly” to worry about uninvolved people getting hurt, he boldly said:
NOCERA (7/24/12): I had advocated that the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty on Penn State, and that didn’t happen. I still think Penn State should stop playing football for awhile—not so much to atone, but to remind its fans and its community that football had become too important at Penn State; that football had, in fact, corrupted Penn State. I wish Rodney Erickson, the Penn State president, were willing to [shut football down].

But he’s not going to do that; even now, football remains too important in the Happy Valley. Nor, of course, did the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty—Emmert claims it was, in part, because innocent bystanders would be hurt. But that’s a silly excuse; its sanctions invariably hurt players and others who have done nothing wrong. That is the nature of the beast.
Nocera’s logic is remarkable. Since some innocent people will be hurt (his language), it’s “silly” to worry about how many! "That’s the nature of the beast," The Chairman blithely decrees.

It’s silly to worry about how many innocent people get hurt! But then, Chairman Nocera seems to know what’s best for people all through the Penn State region. In particular, he knows what best for Penn State’s "fans and its community." He wants someone to remind them that football had become too important.

How does Nocera know that the fans and community don’t already know that? That matter is never spelled out as Chairman Joe issues his decrees.

Did the fans and community engage in these deeds? It’s silly to ask yourself that! Even now, football "remains too important" to the community, Nocera says. How does Nocera know such a thing? He gives us no idea.

Later, Nocera slams the NCAA for its “galling sanctimony”—though this is the group he would put in charge of lecturing all those fans! That said, Chairman Nocera is pleased to tell us what those fans will now be forced to think:
NOCERA: In effect, a moral transgression was being punished with economic sanctions. On the other hand, the sanctions ensure that Penn State will be awful for the foreseeable future. Its fans will have to find other things to do instead of investing their collective identity in Penn State football. That will be a useful discipline.
There! The Chairman feels better, knowing that millions of people he’s never met will have to revise their weak minds. “Useful discipline” has been imposed. This will help them reshape their collective identity.

The Chairmen always love dishing out punishment. They love punishing people they’ve never met, people who have done nothing wrong. It’s silly to worry about how many such people will get caught in their moral improvement schemes.

Many folk have proposed major punishment schemes in the case of Penn State. At the same time, we have been struck by how few people have offered any thoughts about outreach, learning, the future.

Just a guess:

Penn State is full of idealistic young people. This includes many male and female athletes. What could those hopeful young people do to build something from this disaster? How could those idealistic young people—and Penn State’s adults—build upon this disaster?

Could they possibly teach younger people what they should do when they know that something bad is occurring? Could they help younger people learn empathy for the world’s countless victims?

How might those young people do that? How might such sentiments be expressed at Penn State's actual games?

Penn State is full is idealistic young people. But the nation’s various Chairmen will always be drawn to vast punishment schemes.

The more people punished, the better.

Postscript: As of 1999, your mainstream "press corps" had decided that President Clinton had to be punished.

In their coverage of Campaign 2000, they enacted their punishment scheme. Are you happy with how it turned out?

Joe Nocera still knows what's best. Punishment comes first to mind.


  1. What strikes me as especially bizarre about the calls for massive punishment of the Penn state program is the lack of a connection between the ultimate crime -- sex with young minors -- and the institution of college football.

    I mean, I can see the point of punishing with very great severity, say, teachers or clerics, or those who may cover up their crimes on the grounds that the crime is likely to be repeated in similar environments if an example is not set.

    But, for God's sake, how likely is it that college football is going to turn into a refuge for pedophiles, and an institution that enables their crimes? The connection between the particular crime and the institution could hardly have been more random (clearly it would have been different had the coach been preying on the young football players themselves).

    So what we have left as motivation for the severity and sweep of this punishment is little more than the strength of the taboo itself, and the hysteria it engenders.

    And of course nothing can really argue against such an hysteria, aside from poor weak Reason, which tries to impose some limits. If you find any punishment too extreme, then you must be yourself an enabler of pedophiles.

    1. In general, nobody knows how to ride a taboo to create a precisely targeted hysteria like the NY Times and its ample ilk. Take taboos away from the columnists, editors, and reporters at the Times and other media elites, and they wouldn't be able to find a word to put to print. It's what they've got. It's all they've got.

    2. "So what we have left as motivation for the severity and sweep of this punishment is little more than the strength of the taboo itself, and the hysteria it engenders."

      The "strength" of that would be enough. The "hysteria" rightfully evoked...

      This means that sports fans, scholarship winners, and ACTUAL VICTIMS... alike are left saying, "Thanks, Penn State"...

      We are ALL UNAVOIDABLY left to saying, "Thanks, Penn State".

    3. highly-adequate writes:

      >>>>>But, for God's sake, how likely is it that college football is going to turn into a refuge for pedophiles, and an institution that enables their crimes?

      You make a good point about the lack of a likelihood there would be recurring pedophilia scandals or, at least, I would hope that would hold up as a good point.

      In other news, how about them Cornhuskers?:

      >>>>>Thomas William "Tom" Osborne (born February 23, 1937) is a former college football head coach and a former member of Congress. He is currently the athletic director at the University of Nebraska.

      He was the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team for 25 years from (1973 to 1997), succeeding Bob Devaney. After coaching, Osborne was elected to Congress in 2000 and served six years in the U.S. House as a Republican from Nebraska's 3rd district.

      ...Osborne announced his retirement as head coach late in the 1997 season, selecting Frank Solich, his longtime running backs coach, to succeed him. In his final five seasons, Osborne's record was a staggering 60–3 (.952), the strongest finale to any coaching career in college football history.

  2. Anyone who has an opinion about something affecting other people can be accused of "knowing what's best" for them. That is an extremely cheap way of framing a criticism.

  3. Perhaps the leaders of the Penn State football program should have thought about how their cover-up of crimes against innocents might affect other innocent participants in the football program down the road. I don't see why they should get to hold the program in front of them like some kind of human shield.

    And the connection between what happened at Penn State and the football program could hardly be more clear: the welfare of children was sacrificed so nothing would disturb the status quo.

    1. You know, when someone tells me that they are so concerned for the "welfare of children" without telling me that they are in favor of massive increases in the budgets of all federal, state and local agencies so that can properly investigate and monitor ALL cases of child abuse (and not just those where the perp is a Catholic priest or a football coach), then I might be able to believe them.

      Instead, we'll make scapegoats out of guys like Sandusky and Paterno and pretend we've actually done something about a problem that is an epidemic.

    2. Excuse me. "Without telling me" should read "while telling me."

      That's what I get for writing off the top of my head like Somerby.

    3. Despite the confusing anonymouses: What the Anonymous at the very top said.

      The "message" being sent by the NCAA here is not just to Penn but to all college athletics programs. Protecting future innocents is very important.

      That said, even this message will not be enough. See other discussion here about corporatism and colleges/universities.

      Btw, Nocera has been writing scathingly (and persuasively) about the NCAA for many months. This column doesn't come out of nowhere but deserves to be read in that larger context.

  4. The Penn State punishment does nothing for the actual victims, the children who were molested. I think each of the kids should have received a meaningful amount of money and access to Penn State-paid psychiatric help or counseling for as long as they need it. The $60 million dollar fine is ridiculous even if it is to be spend on programs for abused kids; Penn State has an endowment of $1.8 billion.

    1. The $60 million is a sanction that the NCAA is imposing. "The actual victims" will have recourse in civil court and I'm pretty sure Penn State does not want this case to go to a jury to determine a judgement amount. I suspect that there would be the potential for huge punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages and any jury would be asked to consider the resources available to the defendant, i.e. Penn State, in determining punitive damages.

      (Pennsylvania caps punitive medical malpractice judgements at 200% of compensatory damages assessed, and this year the legislature is trying to extend that to nursing home cases. Surfing around I didn't see if Pennsylvania has any cap on punitive damages for the type of tort involved in the Penn State case.)

  5. Quaker in a BasementJuly 25, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    Nocera’s logic is remarkable. Since some innocent people will be hurt (his language), it’s “silly” to worry about how many! "That’s the nature of the beast," The Chairman blithely decrees.

    Good golly, Bob. Nocera is making the very obvious point that fans, students, and players are hurt every time the NCAA imposes a penalty. If there's a recruiting violation, the resulting sanction hurts innocent people. If there is a point-shaving scandal, the sanctions hurt innocent people. For Emmert to whip out harm to innocents as a rationale here is indeed silly. He's pretending that the penalty levied does not hurt innocents while some other sanction would.

    1. And Nocera's pretending His Own Preferred Solutions weren't about hurting innocent people. And he washes it down with sanctimony. What a hero!

  6. It's the old "it's not about the money, we're doing it to make sure this never happens to anyone else!"

    NCAA doesn't have to teach college administrators right from wrong.

    They do have to sting them where it hurts, to prevent coverups and sexual abuse from occurring in the future.

    Yesterday, a Monsignor was sentenced to 3-6 year prison term for covering up pedophilia by priests.

    What stands out, is despite decades of scandal, he was the FIRST high US church official to be sentenced to prison for coverup of sexual abuse.

    No fair, says the Church. He really tried hard to stop the errant priests. The prosecution dragged in some cases that were 60 years old.

    Admittedly, this would not normally be allowed in a criminal trial, but perhaps the judge was frustrated by centuries of systemic failure by the Church.


  7. Look, none of this would have been allowed to go on if football were not god at Penn State. Bob's post is pure baffelgab. The worship of football program enabled this abuse. It doesn't take 11 dimensional abstraction to see this simple truth. The human culprits will be punished too, and as noted above, this is not the end of the financial damage to Penn State (nor should it be). But the fetishizing of football at the expense of human dignity must stop.

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