Politics

01.03.13

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s Shameful Lawsuit Over Penn State

Corbett has sued the NCAA over penalties the association handed the school in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse tragedy. Buzz Bissinger on why the lawsuit is disgraceful political grandstanding.

I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to equal the moral disgrace of now-deceased Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and former top administrators in their handling of the horror reign of predatory animal Jerry Sandusky. I didn’t think it was possible to perhaps even exceed the moral disgrace of these men who obfuscated and ignored in the name of inaction while one of the university’s very own fed his habits with impunity and prowled and then pounced into the hearts and minds and bodies of young children with dozens upon dozens of sex acts before he was finally arrested in November of 2011.

But wherever 63-year-old Republican Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett ranks in the Penn State tragedy, he is a disgrace, an elected official who throughout the Sandusky investigation was far too interested in his own self-interest of winning the governorship. Now, as he is hoping to stay there for a second term, he has pulled his most shameless act yet.

On Wednesday, Corbett held a press conference to announce that the state was filing suit in federal court against the National Collegiate Athletic Association on the grounds that its sanctions against Penn State and its football team were arbitrary, capricious, laced in the venom of making the Nittany Lions an unfair example for its own public relations purposes, and lacking in authority. In a rare move, Corbett himself was named as the plaintiff.

Five months earlier, the NCAA banned Penn State from post-season play for four seasons, severely curtailed the number of scholarships for the same period of time, and ordered the university to pay a $60 million fine. The NCAA did not conduct an independent investigation on its own which, knowing the NCAA, would have taken years. Instead, given the urgency of the matter, it relied largely on the exhaustive 267-page findings of a Penn State–commissioned probe into the scandal headed by former FBI head Louis Freeh.

By accepting the sanctions without protest, the university appeared to understand the hideousness of what happened, how the predatory animal was allowed to roam free, and the obvious way in which the culture of football made sure nothing would happen because Joe Paterno did not want anything to happen, God, King, and Country of Happy Valley.

But Corbett’s suit has exposed the lie of that acceptance, a university board of too many sports sycophant fat cats who never got it and never will, complaining about persecution like stuck pigs. Penn State is not a party to the suit, and some may take it as a sign of maintaining distance, but that’s a misread. As a state-related institution, the university receives funding from the government of Pennsylvania. Corbett himself is an influential member of the board. In filing suit, Corbett is the university’s front man and the university his silent partner.

Those of us who believed that Penn State learned some kind of lesson have been lied to. We have been made into fools. The culture of football is all too alive and well at Penn State.

A sampling from the suit:

“The NCAA…engaged in an effort to cripple Penn State’s ability to maintain a nationally renowned football program that is a centerpiece of campus life and community support, and thereby irreparably harm the citizens and the general economy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

As a resident of the state of Pennsylvania, I could give a flying fuck about Penn State football. I have a feeling there are many millions in the state who feel the same way. The sweeping claim that the NCAA sanctions harm the citizens of the state is offensive. As for the economic argument, $90 million of the $161.5 million in business volume from Penn State football goes to Centre County, where the university resides. It certainly made little difference to 70,000 of the poorest and sickest residents in Pennsylvania who had the General Assistance program cut by Corbett.

Those of us who believed that Penn State learned some kind of lesson have been lied to. We have been made into fools.

The suit is hogwash. By the time it is fully litigated, if it is ever litigated, there is a strong likelihood that the sanctions against Penn State will have ended. But this is not a suit pivoting on legal merits. This is a suit filed by Corbett to ingratiate himself with the Penn State community and alumni, a valuable source of votes and campaign contributions when he is up for reelection in 2014 and may well face a formidable challenger in the Republican primary.

Democrat Kathleen Kane, a former prosecutor who will take office as Pennsylvania attorney general on Jan. 15, wants to know why the Sandusky investigation—which started in 2008 when Corbett was attorney general—took so long. Given Kane’s experience in child-abuse cases, she insists that in normal circumstances the predatory animal would have been arrested after the first allegation was proven to be founded. It would have gotten him off the street, and nothing would have precluded the state police from further investigation. Instead, a grand jury was impaneled. It went on for more than three years, which kept the predatory animal free to attack until his arrest.

In the meantime, Corbett took close to $202,000 in gubernatorial campaign donations from board members of the charity started by the predatory animal, called Second Mile, according to Deadspin.com. In the meantime, there were all of two state investigators (some say it was only one) assigned to the case of the predatory animal until Corbett became governor in 2011. It was only afterwards that the investigation expanded into the scope it always deserved.

Even then, the investigation showed such apparent sloppiness that it seemed almost willful in trying to protect Penn State officials from extensive damage. It wasn’t until March of 2012 that attorney-general investigators, in concert with Freeh investigators, discovered that Sandusky actually had maintained an office at the university; it was found to house valuable evidence. Nor from all indications did state investigators discover the crucial emails that resulted in the attorney general filing perjury charges against former Penn State president Graham Spanier. They apparently came instead from the Freeh investigation.

Accusations have flown that Corbett played politics with the case of the predatory animal. He has vehemently denied this, and he points to the successful prosecution of the predatory animal, which resulted in a 30-year prison sentence. He deserves credit for this. But he also deserves the stench closing in on him with yesterday’s absurdist suit, a shamelessly naked attempt to pander to the Penn State brethren.

He is actually right in stating in the suit that the citizens of Pennsylvania have been “irreparably harmed.” Irreparably harmed from ever thinking that anything has been learned by Penn State from the horror. Irreparably harmed by a governor presumably using our tax dollars to file a suit that only heightens the sickening importance of the culture of college football.