Commentary

Penn State's reconcilable differences

Still missing amid trials, punishment, sanctions, fines: an effort at restoration

Updated: August 5, 2012, 2:40 PM ET
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

Nothing is resolved. Sandusky, Paterno, Penn State, the jackhammered statue, the Freeh report, the NCAA sanctions -- all of it rushed, unfinished, provisional. The Grand Experiment fails and the race to forget begins. The contract extension kicks in, the civil suits line up, the opportunists circle the parking lots, and we're talking about money and Hawaii and which players stay and which players go as if it were all over. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz don't have trial dates yet. Jerry Sandusky hasn't even been sentenced.

"It's time to punch back." All due respect coach, but are you out of your mind? The penalties fall and the punishments drop -- none of them even a week old -- and already the language rings defiant, as if there's been a persecution, an injustice done against Penn State football. Who are the real victims here? And who are the martyrs?

"We took a lot of punches. Penn State has taken a lot of punches over the last six months," Bill O'Brien said at Big Ten media day, "and it's time to punch back."

[+] EnlargeCentre County Courthouse
Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesThis tragic story has been told by lawyers and the judicial system. To truly move forward, Penn State should open other safe avenues of communication and reconciliation.

Against what? Against whom? Against the monster this program harbored for so long? Or do you mean to punch back against the critics and those who said maybe football was less important than atonement?

Where's the effort at reconciliation? The restoration of trust in your own community? Where's the contrition? Financial compensation, no matter how lavish, is not by itself restitution. Money alone heals no one.

Penn State missed the chance to voluntarily suspend football operations until it knew where it stood. Until it knew what happened and for how long and to whom. Instead it rushes into another season without knowing where the next accusation is coming from, or where the next investigation might lead. In the weeks and months and years ahead, how many more names will be read out in how many more courtrooms?

But no one need miss a single down of football.

It's been suggested that Penn State convene a Truth and Reconciliation Commission like the one made famous in South Africa. Trade amnesties for bitter truths. I second this, but note without surprise that the idea has no traction anywhere. Instead, elaborate arrangements are being made for financial settlements. Payoffs.

Has a single plan been suggested for moral restoration? For spiritual restitution? Across hundreds of pages and scores of recommendations for lost scholarships and better bureaucratic checks and balances, neither Freeh nor the NCAA address the heart or the soul or the mission of the institution itself and what it might do to restore our faith in it.

Nearly every system of philosophy or religion has a mechanism for reconciliation. Atonement. Forgiveness. I keep waiting for any sign that anyone at Penn State understands this. If no one learns anything, it's as if all this misery has come and gone for nothing.

The sports press is complicit in this too, of course, all of us in the zombie media who keep using words like "incomprehensible" to describe what happened. To do so is to let ourselves off the hook. A big college football program covered up the serial rape of children in order to produce more big college football. There is a completely comprehensible truth here for anyone willing to look at it.

Beyond entertainment, the only real value in sports is in how they reveal essential human truths. In what we can learn about ourselves from all that metaphor and overblown poetry. Like so much of human art and science, sports are part of the search for decency.

If your local factory produced something that poisoned people and made them blind, you'd shut it down. We should hold our football factories to the same standard. All the arguments over Penn State and football and money are just that: arguments over money. The loss of Penn State football to the Pennsylvania economy has been detailed and inflated and retold again and again and again. Not yet answered is the one question worth asking:

What's the real price of a clear conscience?