Skip to main content

Penn State alum: We deserved NCAA penalty

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
July 27, 2012 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
Roxanne Jones says faced with charges of Sandusky's sexual abuse, Penn State's trustees failed to do their jobs.
Roxanne Jones says faced with charges of Sandusky's sexual abuse, Penn State's trustees failed to do their jobs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Some Penn Staters outraged at post-Sandusky NCAA penalties
  • She says many at university, not just football program, were responsible
  • She says Penn State got off easy after heinous behavior administration allowed
  • Jones: Housecleaning not done: Trustees who sat silent should be made to step down

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones, a graduate of Penn State, is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House) and is CEO of Push Media Strategies and is working on her second book.

(CNN) -- When my phone rang just a few seconds after the NCAA sanctions were handed down Monday, I knew it was someone from Penn State calling, likely outraged that our beloved university was being punished so harshly. I've received these calls all week.

"I don't think it's fair mainly because there were no violations on the field of play. There were no violations by athletes," said one caller, decrying the raft of penalties that will, among other things, keep the university's football program out of the post-season for four years. "Only by coaches and administration, all of whom are gone and facing criminal charges. ... I just feel the NCAA is pimping off the Penn State situation," said my friend on the phone, a former football player and current college administrator. "What do you think?" he asked. He was clearly upset.

And, he is clearly wrong.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

I'm sorry. I just can't join the throngs of furious Nittany Lions. My outrage is too focused on a university that failed us and, more importantly, all of the boys who were raped and abused by former coach Jerry Sandusky. He was convicted last month for sexually assaulting 10 boys over more than 10 years, while everyone, according to the Freeh report on the scandal -- coaches, administrators and Penn State's Board of Trustees, sat back and let it happen. Too afraid to ask any questions, too afraid to lose their careers, too selfish to care about anything but football and the big money it represented.

What do I think, my friend? I think the NCAA sanctions are not only fair but also could have been harsher.

Arguing that the NCAA overstepped its bounds and has no right to butt into this criminal case is ridiculous. That is the same type of legal-loophole thinking that Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and other top officials who knew about Sandusky's behavior used when they "followed the letter of the law" and reported to their superiors that Sandusky may have done "something" to a boy in the shower that awful night in 1998. They reported this suspected rape to their bosses and then went home.

"Mike & Mike" on Penn State's sanctions
Emmert: It was the board's decision
Wall around Paterno statue demolished
Sandusky message to victim: 'I love you'

I think we got off easy.

But to hear the indignant reaction of those in the Penn State family and in the media, you would think that the NCAA was shutting down the entire university. I just don't get it. We are talking about a university -- not one man, many men and women, an entire culture -- that allowed a former coach to repeatedly rape and abuse boys for decades on university property and school trips.

Penn State alum: 'We are more than this tragedy'

We are talking about a university (not just a football program) that covered up these crimes, allowing the football program to become a safe haven for a child rapist. It is a university and the entire culture around Happy Valley that happily saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil as long as the profits were rolling in and the stadium seats were filled. And now we all have to pay the penalty for allowing that culture to fester.

I'm willing to believe the board of trustees also realizes we got off easy, considering how quickly it agreed not to appeal any of the NCAA sanctions. Small wonder. Said the Freeh report: "The board also failed in its duties to oversee the president and senior university officials in 1998 and 2001 by not inquiring about important university matters and by not creating an environment where senior university officials felt accountable."

That is why it is time to clean house on the board.

Any board member who sat back, asked no questions or failed to demand on the record that university President Graham Spanier be more accountable to his bosses — that would be the board itself -- needs to step down.

According to the university's alumni website, trustees have "complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the university and all the interests pertaining thereto including students, faculty, staff and alumni."

Is there any doubt that the current lame-duck board miserably failed in its job? It is a positive step that the board commissioned the Freeh's report, but they must still be held to account for leading our university down a path of destruction.

If we are going to clean house in the football program -- and we are not quite done there -- then, next, every trustee who sat silent on that board since 1998 should also be asked to leave. If this were any other board (corporate or nonprofit) there would be angry calls from constituents and sponsors for resignations. Well, we who are Penn State are the constituents and sponsors.

Board members are entrusted with the care of the university. They are the gatekeepers. And believe me, board service is not for the weak or cowardly. I've sat on many boards; the work is hard, especially since members generally depend on the president of the organization to keep them informed. But that is not a board member's only role. The trustee website also states that the board: "...has a continuing obligation to require information or answers on any university matter with which it is concerned."

In other words, your job as a trustee is to always ask the tough questions, do your homework and examine the facts around issues pertaining to the well-being of the university. Sometimes, it means that you have to confront an arrogant bully. Sometimes that bully is your president. To do anything less is a failure to the organization you serve.

Even after the board was updated about the Sandusky investigation in May 2011, several trustees recalled in the Freeh Report, no one asked tough questions. Several present at that meeting recalled that after a three- to five-minute meeting on Sandusky and the grand jury investigation, "the university did not appear to focus on the investigation." It did not seem that important to Penn State.

Weak leaders put their own agenda and profits before all else. These people do not deserve to serve on the board. Our house is still dirty and we need to finish cleaning up so we can all once again proudly proclaim:

We are ... Penn State.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT