The ESPN telecast showed student reaction (photo) on a split screen as NCAA President Mark Emmert ticked off one harsh penalty after another against Penn State’s football team. Clearly these horrified Penn State students were being punished for the sins of the formerly sainted coach, the university president, and other senior members of the administration. Their future autumn Saturdays, their social lives, and their pride in their university were being stripped from them.
Accountability for wrongdoing often brings down the innocent along with the guilty. Think about the workers at Enron, Arthur Anderson, or MCI-Worldcom, who lost their jobs when their bosses’ malfeasance destroyed their companies. Or think about innocent children of illegal immigrants who are wrenched away from their world when their parents are deported.
Is it all right to punish the innocent? First, there is no way of punishing the guilty without harming people close to, or dependent on them. Even a mass murderer–when he is sent away his mother suffers along with him. When Al Qaeda militants are killed, their family members often die with them.
Still we mustn’t be blasé about collateral damage to innocents. It was painful to watch the students as their innocent college years were stripped of top-quality football. But in a sense they’re not innocent. They share a nation-wide belief that football is more (more…)