Will the sanctions against Penn State really “change a culture”? Only if we also stop tolerating a culture of rape on college campuses as well.
In a somber press conference the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State to address the gross inaction on its part in tolerating the continued abuse of young boys perpetrated by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including during his tenure as assistant coach at the University. In the official investigations that ensued, Penn State was found liable of a massive cover-up of the crimes, including by the late Penn State football coach Joe Patterno, Sandusky’s boss who could have acted to stop his assistant’s crimes and prevent other children from being victimized. "Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people…The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," NCAA President Mark Emmert stated as he announced the penalties that include vacating 14 season’s worth of victories for its football team and the creation of a $60 million endowment by the University to fund programs that prevent child abuse. Ed Ray, chair of the NCAA Executive Committee added, “The corrective and punitive measures the executive committee and Division 1 board of directors have authorized should serve as a stark wake-up call to every individual in college sports that our first responsibility as outlined in our constitution is to adhere to the fundamental values of respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility.”
The NCAA should be commended for this awakening of responsibility, in the wake of unquestionable evidence of institutionally tolerated harm perpetrated by an acclaimed member of the university. It is now owning up to its responsibility to punish Penn State for knowingly tolerating sexual abuse while also attempting to promote “cultural changes” throughout the intercollegiate system that prioritize the safety of children and students above all else. The authority to do so comes from the governing by-laws of an athletic association that recognizes its paramount duty to ensure well-being. Cultural change, however, will not be easy.
In stark contrast to the unprecedented taking of institutional responsibility by the NCAA to prevent such crimes and cover ups from happening again on a college campus, many continue to be unapologetic vocal supporters of Joe Patterno, because the roots of a culture of rape run deep.
If “culture” is faulted for allowing the sexual abuse of boys to continue, then that culture will only be changed if all forms of pervasive sexual abuse on campus are addressed. The Sandusky case painfully exposed the tremendous harm that bystander silence can perpetrate. The inclination towards taking responsibility by those who should and can impact change is a tremendous opportunity to implement, or try to implement, measures toward real cultural change that will root out all forms of abuse and assault perpetrated in a college setting. The NCAA and Penn State also have to address an overall culture of rape tolerated on college campuses and we all have to commit to not being silent bystanders, but vocal opponents of the continuation of harm.
*Click here to read another post by Samir Goswami featured on The Sociological Cinema. For another post on Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, click here.
Samir Goswami is a DC-based writer from India. Samir spent the last fifteen years working towards policy reform for the issues of homelessness and housing, workforce development, human rights, violence against women and human trafficking, specifically working with survivors to have a direct say in their governance. His work has been recognized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, which honored him with the 2010 Impact Award. He is currently focusing on promoting authentic corporate social responsibility.