Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wild Guesses and Outlandish Speculation: Scandal edition.

Our focus yesterday on the Penn State scandal naturally lead us to discuss similar scandals in the NBA.  Frank "Kevin" Mieuli, Jordan Durlester, Jason Arends and Alex Maki weigh in.  Let's get to it.

1.  Do you feel the NCAA's punishment -- $60 million dollar fine, four year postseason ban and 111 vacated wins from 1998-2011 -- fit the crime?

Franklin Mieuli: Given the NCAA's jurisdiction, yeah, I think they did pretty well.  It is still obviously a situation best handled in a court of law, and hopefully it comes down hard on all those pedophile-enablers like it did on Sandusky.

Jordan Durlester: Due to the nature of the crimes committed by Penn State no punishment could ever really match the horrendous level of pain that was caused.  Having said that, the punishment handed down by the NCAA was sufficiently just.  The men who were "in charge" and primarily responsible for harboring this monster will get a more fitting punishment in criminal court.

Jason Arends: Well, the crime is the cover-up and enabling of a serial child rapist.  I'm not sure where to even begin with an appropriate punishment for that.  It certainly seems like there should be more criminal charges from something like this, and I'm sure the civil penalties have only begun.  My only concern is that the student athletes and support staff of the organization are going to be more adversely affected than those at the top, but that's sadly almost always the case with institutional punishment, and I'm not sure of a way around it.  In short, I don't have any problems with the NCAA punishments, but after something like this if they decreed that Beaver Stadium be bulldozed into the ground and the earth around it salted, I wouldn't object.

Alex Maki:  In a perfect world there would be a punishment that would only affect the leadership and those who were complicit, and it would not affect individuals that played no role and that are, in a certain sense, vulnerable such as those receiving (either right now or in the immediate future) scholarships to play football at Penn State.  But we don't live in a perfect world.  As Jordan said, this is such an egregious crime that few punishments could be considered too severe.  The punishment is less than perfect given the fallout of affecting scholarships and those just hoping to play football (which many, if not all, will be able to do somewhere else), but it is fitting and probably sufficient.

2.  Is this the worst scandal in modern sports history?

Franklin Mieuli: Absolutely.  Gambling, "integrity of the game", steroids, etc., are trivial in the face of this.  An iconic, powerful sports institution being used to aid and abet pedophilia?

Jordan Durlester: Without a doubt.  The despicable actions taken by Sandusky are only matched by the equally despicable attempted cover up.

Jason Arends: Unless some sports organization was murdering people or allowing even more children to be raped, then yes, I'd say the Penn State scandal is the worst in modern sports.  Most other scandals I can think of deal with performance enhancing drugs or gambling, which is a far cry from sexual assault in my book.  There was that Baylor player who was killed by a teammate and the coach asked teammates to lie about it, but I'd say the systemic cover-up of a child rapist is even worse.

Alex Maki:  Yes.  Sure, it kind of stinks when players cheat by taking steroids, or referees bet on games.  But these were men betraying the trust of children and potentially ruining their entire lives.  For no reason whatsoever.  Nothing really comes close.  I also want to say that, though I'm not sure the word "scandal" really covers it, covering up and inadequately addressing concussions is particularly pathetic and inhumane, especially in the NFL and NHL.  This scandal, while not as bad as the Penn State assaults, will be looked back on as bewildering and degrading to humans.

3.  What do you feel is the NBA's biggest scandal or black eye in its history?

Franklin Mieuli: I'm tempted to say the continued ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers by a racist megalomaniac, but racking my head all I can come up with is Malice in the Palace, which in comparison to the events at Penn State, isn't all that bad.

Jordan Durlester: The Malice at the Palace.  I was literally terrified watching the invisible wall that separates players and fans get demolished in that infamously chaotic scene.  I must have watched that clip a thousand times and still have trouble processing it.

Jason Arends: The revelation that Tim Donaghy was fixing games for the mob would have to be the top NBA scandal.  While anyone who watched the 2002 WCF would not express surprise that at least one referee had money riding on games, this was a tremendous embarrassment to the NBA, especially because Stern only learned of it when the FBI turned up Donaghy during an organized crime investigation.  The inconsistencies of NBA referees was (and it) always an issue for the league, but to have an active referee be betting on games and working with organized crime is a tremendous black eye for the integrity of the NBA.

Alex Maki:  Though I think the Malice in the Palace is pretty horrible, I think the NBA has a decent (but not great) track record of putting out a product that is family-friendly.  So though I take violence far more seriously than most other shortcomings in the league, I would actually vote that the Tim Donaghy betting scandal in 2007 was more of a black eye, as it had the potential to completely undermine any confidence the public and even the league had in the legitimacy of the sport.

4.  Could a similar situation to Penn State -- that is, protracted sexual violence and a top-down cover up -- occur in the NBA, or another professional sports league?

Franklin Mieuli: I hesitate to say no, but I doubt it.  In college sports the universities are powerful silos, oftentimes outside the direct jurisdiction of anybody but themselves, which is why big-time programs are run like fiefdoms.  Say what you will about David Stern, but I can't imagine him covering up for anybody.

Jordan Durlester: You'd have to be foolish to think that this type of scandal couldn't happen again in a professional sports league.  With the amount of money at stake you unfortunately can never be too sure.

Jason Arends:  Yes, I'm sure it has happened and will happen again, in the NBA and other leagues.  Given the tragic under reporting of rape and the significant barriers victims face, I'm certain that sports organizations have covered up sexual assaults for players before.  Maybe nothing quite as stomach churning as decades of child rape, but who can forget the Isiah Thomas-run Knicks and the sexual harassment trial that resulted?  Or the numerous players who have been convicted of sexual assault over the years?  Sports is a big money business heavily dependent on image.  There are going to be people who think that loyalty to the brand is more important than basic humanity, so I don't think this is the last cover up we'll see in sports.

Alex Maki:  Colleges and universities definitely have their own cultures and power structures that might make a coverup a bit more likely.  But I think the take away (and frankly a lesson we social psychologists always lecture on in our Introduction to Social Psychology classes) is how powerful situations can make normal people do horrible things.  This doesn't mean blame should not be leveled at people that commit horrible acts, but instead that given a system that has a sufficiently hierarchical power structure and doesn't have to answer to any outside entities (or can hide things from outside entities), it is perhaps more a question of when, not if, something (not necessarily of this magnitude) goes wrong.  And I think often times professional sports leagues still meet these criteria.  (This is not an opinion directly informed by empirical, social-psychology studies, so I don't want to see any misleading quotes in the future!).

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