Child Sex Abuse — Not Football — The Focus of Healing Process

Penn State was hit with $60 million in fines, a four-year suspension from post-season play and was forced to vacate 112 victories over the 14 years since officials first failed to act on allegations that convicted child molester Gary Sandusky was a pedophile.

Many are calling it the most severe sanctions ever handed out in college athletics. As Sports Illustrated put it, the NCAA sentenced Penn State to a slow death, rather than the death penalty. The so-called “death penalty” was given to Southern Methodist University in 1987, when the entire football team was forced to sit out a year of competition. That case involved a slush fund used to pay players for a decade.Our Chicago sex abuse attorneys see this as a cautionary tale. Children must be believed and protected. Organizations that fail to protect from abuse must be held accountable, whether the Catholic Church or a storied university.

In this case, the allegations are that Coach Paterno, University President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz. and Athletic Director Tim Curley failed in their obligation to protect children from Sandusky. The vacated games are for the 1998-2011 seasons; 1998 is when officials at Penn State first learned of allegations of abuse against Sandusky.

Curley and Schultz are facing perjury charges in connection with their grand jury testimony.

Cries that the NCAA acted out of bounds, or acted too quickly, should fall on deaf ears. One is the health and safety of a defenseless child. The other is a game played on Saturday afternoons. The argument is that the NCAA’s business is ensuring that college sports remain apart from professional sports. Some Penn State supporters feel the sanctioning body lacks jurisdiction to punish members for off-field, non-player related issues.

Sandusky was convicted in criminal court on 45 counts of criminal sex abuse. Many of his crimes occurred at Penn State facilities as Sandusky had virtually unlimited use of university facilities long after he retired from coaching. We wrote last week on our Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog when the university’s independent report was released. The report found university officials had ample evidence of sex abuse — including attacks on children in the football locker room showers in 1998 and 2001.

Both the head of the university and the head of the football program had adequate information to warrant thorough investigation of crimes against children. And they both failed to respond adequately, erring on the side of protecting the reputation of the university, rather than doing everything possible to ensure children are not subjected to criminal sex abuse.

How long it takes Penn State’s historic football program to recover is largely a secondary question. The recovery of abused children is paramount.

SMU has not been as competitive since it served its sanctions in 1987-88. Penn State’s penalties also include 20 fewer scholarships a year for the next four years, so it will be nearly a decade before those classes are graduated. And, in the near term, the NCAA has given current Penn State players the right to transfer to a different school. The Big Ten has also announced Penn State will forgo $13 million in revenue over the course of the four-year suspension. The expected loss of ticket revenue will push the real cost of Penn State’s total financial penalty well north of $100 million.

The Chicago Tribune reports other historic sanctions include the two-year ban levied against the Southwestern Louisiana basketball program in 1973. The Kentucky basketball program was given a season-long suspension 1952, after players were arrested for taking payments from gamblers in a point-shaving scandal.

Penn State officials are vowing to heal, and to build a university that always puts first the needs and safety of children. The $73 million in NCAA and Big Ten fines will go to fund programs aimed at child welfare and preventing child abuse.

Abels & Annes offers victims and families a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. Call 855-LAW-CHICAGO.

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