This week, Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Corbett, announced that he plans to sue the NCAA over sanctions that the organization has leveled against Penn State University. As you may have heard, an assistant football coach at Penn State, was convicted of sexually abusing dozens of young boys over decades of his life. When it was revealed that there was apparently a conscious cover-up of his abhorrent behavior, the university was placed under severe sanctions, which presumably will cause the football program to be relegated to the minor leagues for years to come. Once Sandusky was convicted, this sorry chapter that affected all of central Pennsylvania and alumni of the Nittany Lions throughout the nation, people thought that perhaps now was a time to put this sorry chapter behind it.
So why has Corbett decided to bring this up all over again? I’m sure that most of his constituents and most Penn State alumni to whom I’ve spoken just wanted to bury this chapter, and ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. For that, we need to look at the rest of the story.
Corbett was the Pennsylvania Attorney General from 2005 until 2011. Early in his tenure, allegations began being circulated about Sandusky’s behavior, yet it took until 2011 for an indictment to be issued, which ultimately led to his conviction and sentencing last year. What caused the delay, while numerous more boys were violated? The answer, in all probability, is Joe Paterno.
For those of you who have never lived in Pennsylvania, this may seem strange. JoePa was just a football coach, right? Not exactly. For 40 years, there were two powerful political actors in Pennsylvania. Bob Casey was the Democrat. He was so powerful that anyone named Casey, whether related to him or not, was figured to have an inordinate advantage when running for office. His son is currently one of the US senators. Joe Paterno was the GOP equivalent. Every Republican seeking statewide office or any elected position in the central part of the state needed his imprimatur.
For decades, whenever there was a Democrat in office, Republicans begged JoePa to run for Governor or Senator, since he would easily win. He refused to do so, knowing that being football coach at the major sports university in the state gave him more power than any elected position. To give you a sense of his real power, in the early 1980s, he allegedly met with a number of alumni of another college football power in the state, and convinced them to fire the coach before violations were revealed. That school’s football program has still not recovered.
When the NCAA announced the sanctions, trustees from Penn State acceded to them. One of these trustees was Corbett. He called these penalties, ‘corrective action’. So why now is he dredging up these horrors once more?
Last November, Kathleen Kane was elected Attorney General. She became the first Democrat ever elected to this position. Her entire campaign was based on revealing Corbett’s inaction while he held office on Sandusky.
So Corbett seems to be trying to rally alumni by raising these dead charges in his lawsuit. If he brings it to trial, the entire house of horrors will be exposed once more. Facts that were not released, showing the complicity of the football program, athletic department, and the entire university may well be revealed. And what will Corbett gain? He may provide a short-term smokescreen of his own cowardice and dereliction of duty. Who knows what damage he will cause the GOP in the state if he should continue this path?
Generally, I think Tom Corbett has done a good job as Governor of Pennsylvania. That Rust Belt state has avoided many of the worst problems of the recession during his tenure; unemployment never reached the heights of many other places; housing prices didn’t fall as low. Yet, he is willing to decimate a political party to protect his own reputation.
This cannot end well, as we should know from recent history. The Catholic Church is still recovering from its own analogous problems. Decades after the scandal unfolded, it is still begging people to return. They’ve even come up with a motto, ‘ Catholics Come Home.’ Will Corbett force Republicans to do the same in the Keystone State?