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
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT