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When winning isn't winning

Sometimes winning isn’t really winning.

That’s the important message the NCAA sent out today via the penalties it assessed Penn State University for its failures relative to the child abuse perpetrated by its former coach, Jerry Sandusky. In essence, PSU put its football program ahead of the welfare of children.  The school wasn’t given the death penalty (suspension of its football program), but it was about as close as you could get.  They received:

*      $60 million in fines,

*      loss of sixty-five scholarships over the next four years,

*      four year post season ban,

*      athletic department on probation for the next four years,

*      wins from 1998-2011 vacated (112).

This last one means that all of those games PSU appeared to win --- they didn’t actually win.  Although they were ahead on the scoreboard, they were behind in other areas that were more important (truth, justice, mercy, etc.).  Today’s ruling is an all important reminder that the scoreboard is not the ultimate arbiter of victory and defeat.  The appearance of being a "winner" isn't always the same thing as the reality of being a winner because “winning” that’s done in the wrong way isn’t really winning at all.  NCAA president Mark Emmert said many insightful things but this stands out:

“One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge.  The result can be an erosion of academic values replaced by the values of hero worship and winning at all costs.”

In other words, we’ll be satisfied to be ahead on the scoreboard and settle for being a "winner" in appearances only.  Sports is like everything else in life ---  it is a blessing when kept in perspective and a curse when it becomes an obsession.   

A second truth worth noting is that most of the negative responses to the ruling have said something to the effect that it punishes innocent people (the players, fans, new coaches, etc.).  Duly noted.  But because we’re all connected, punishment of the guilty usually affects the innocent.  A husband and father commits a felony and is sent to prison --- does anyone think his family doesn’t suffer?  But what do you do --- suspend punishment of the guilty because the innocent suffer?  Or do you attempt to punish the guilty with a minimum of suffering for the innocent.  I think the answer has to be the latter and our individualism (and maybe our softness), keeps us from seeing this. 

Today's ruling should cause us all to pause for a few moments of sober reflection to ask ourselves if sports have become too important to us.  It’s easy to point a finger in PSU’s direction today, but the better option would be to look in the mirror.     
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