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Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.
Op-ed: The NCAA's punishment for Penn State is swift and appropriate
By Mark Mains
Special to The Times
LITTLE more than a week after the Louis Freeh report's scathing indictment of Joe Paterno and Penn State for failing to protect and thereby facilitating the rape and abuse of children, the punishment has been swift and appropriate.
It was also the result of 10 years of hard work by survivors and advocates to bring this crime into public view.
On Monday, the NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, stripped away 14 years of victories, capped scholarships for five years and ordered the school to sit out the postseason for four years. The penalties came after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys over 15 years.
In 2002, survivors of child sex abuse sued the Catholic Diocese of Spokane.
Thus began an ongoing journey in pursuit of healing, justice and protection of children through education. In November 2004, on the eve of our trial, the diocese declared bankruptcy rather than face the same damaging publicity Penn State sought to avoid by covering up subsequently proven allegations of abuse by one of its most influential surrogates.
Many similarities exist between the Penn State case and our case in Spokane, but some significant differences as well. As a court-appointed advocate in the bankruptcy case, I represented what turned out to be around 200 survivors of sex-abuse crimes in Spokane alone.
One difference is that because the men abused at Penn State found their voices sooner than I did, the university has been subject to full and thorough investigation by law enforcement. Through shame and intimidation, the Spokane diocese managed to cover up its crimes until statutes of limitations had run, thus avoiding criminal prosecution.
Sandusky awaits sentencing and should spend the rest of his life behind bars, while Patrick O'Donnell, admitted abuser of dozens of young boys, remains free. The legacy of Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in college football as of Sunday, has been stripped away by the forfeiture of 14 years of victories, all of them earned after he knew what his defensive coordinator was doing. Stripped away like the statue that bore the quote, "They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place not just that I was a good football coach." Ironic.
In contrast, Bishop William Skylstad — Father Bill to me as a child — was elected head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for his role in covering up the crimes of his colleague, and retired in 2010 never having had to take a witness stand.
Penn State was fined $60 million, with the stipulation that the money be used for prevention and assistance to abuse victims. The Diocese of Spokane case was settled for nearly that amount, but by dragging the process through the courts for years, the diocese ensured that well over half the money went to attorneys rather than survivors.
It is another sign of progress that the university has accepted the punishment and is ready to move forward. I hope it will do the same with the inevitable, and appropriate, civil lawsuits that will come.
As a University of Washington alumni, I was proud as NCAA president and former UW President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions against Penn State and the legacy of Joe Paterno. It wasn't just Husky pride. It was pride in how far we have come since I went through my own struggle with abuse, the consequences, and the benefits of speaking out.
Hopefully we are finished protecting institutions and ready to devote our resources to protecting kids. All survivors deserve to reflect on what we have done to heal ourselves, and everyone needs to reflect on how to prevent this tragedy in the future.Mark Mains is an elementary teacher and served as vice chair of the Tort Litigants Committee in the Diocese of Spokane bankruptcy proceedings.
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