Fake Penalties for Penn State, Fake Grades, Fake Success: Learning Nothing from a Scandal

The important image is Jerry Sandusky down there in the shower-room doing it to kids. Somehow a penalty that involves not being able to play in bowl games just seems terribly out of whack.

I do get what's right about it. Sandusky and others in this matter face tough criminal penalties, and that is not out of whack. That is as it should be. This is primarily a criminal matter.

As an aside, Joe Paterno's family ought to shut up and count themselves damned lucky their old man died when he did or he would be doing the perp walk with the rest of the bastards who covered this thing up.

And college football did need to pay some price for this too, apart from the criminal penalties. I sort of get that. There had to be a response.

I still don't get why SMU got the death penalty in 1987 for doing what all these teams do today, finding creative ways to put money in the pockets of players, but Penn State did not, for covering up child rape.

It sure looks likes the NCAA was willing to spank every part of Penn State but its bottom line. A $60 million fine? Piffle. Look at for a rank of college football programs by sheer profitability (UT Austin is No. 1), and you begin to get a picture.

Mike Ozanian at Forbes offers a stunning portrait of the way in which college football outperforms capitalism itself as a means of wealth generation.

But in reading the morning newspapers today, I am struck by something at an entirely different level. I don't think the real problem is about sports. It's way deeper. It's really about how we view success.

The Dallas Morning News has a pretty good story -- even if it's presented in sort of an odd way -- about private school drug addicts whose pushers are their parents. Oh, excuse me, that's not really how they put it. The story, which appears under their "Education" sig, is about how maybe possibly a little bit some certain kids under pressure to be high achievers maybe sort of misuse a little bit some of the performance enhancing drugs like Adderall and Vyvanse that their parents get prescribed for them so they can earn better grades.

Are you kidding me? When my kid was a freshman at UT Austin eight years ago, he came home with stories -- he thought they were funny, of course -- about Adderall gangs in the dorms who were breaking into rooms to get pills to sell. That junk is a middle class epidemic. The News just barely suggests way down deep in its story where it winds up -- cocaine.

Hey, teach your kid he can kick ass on Adderall. How long do you think it will be before he figures out he can kick even more ass on cocaine?

What does this have to do with the Nittany Lion? I don't know. I'm probably just nuts here. But I can't help thinking there is a shared theme in these two things, in profit-spewing commercial sports masquerading as education and in people willing to turn their kids into junkies in order to get good grades.

The theme is fake success. Moral bling. Life as a showroom. People on their feet screaming getting a big rush out of some showbiz crap that doesn't mean a thing.

Go back to the grade-getting drugs. And I am not talking here about the kids who have genuine diagnosed syndromes for which these drugs are effective when prescribed and monitored by people who made it through med school. For those kids, the drugs represent incredible breakthroughs in brain research, and when the drugs work the way they are supposed to work, the drugs are like miracles out of the Bible. That's not what we're here to talk about.

I'm talking about the kids who get them off the street (from friends, in other words) and take them to cram. I'm talking about the parents who wink at it, because they know their kid, left to his or her own merits and devices, is a B-minus student, but with a pharmaceutical boost and a 30-hour sleepless cram session that mid-term grade can come in at Triple-A.

Does anybody really think that kid is smarter? Does anybody give a shit? Isn't that Triple A grade an example of what I'm talking about -- a fake and empty success?

So I attended UT Austin football games when my kid was there, of course, and I never sat down, because nobody sits down. Everybody stands up and screams during the whole game. I believe once or twice I may have worn an orange garment. Not saying I didn't have fun. And I do have a certain love and reverence for UT, where my kid got one hell of an education.

But the enterprise I was looking at in that roaring stadium generates annual profits of almost $70 million after expenses of $25 million. So what if it's good at doing football? It better be good at football. What does that have to do with education? And why do we attach a connotation of success to UT Austin because of it?

It's bling. It's bullshit. And there is a reason, I believe, to weave the Adderall issue into this. Is it possible that we as a society and a culture just don't know what real success is any more, real character, real achievement? Have we all adopted the values of the dumbest reality TV shows?

Forget penalties at Penn State. I don't even like the term. It reminds me of time-out. Think about Sandusky down there in the shower room raping children. We don't need penalties. We need change.

Forget about change coming from the NCAA. They're the uber-corporate holding company for college football profits. The last thing they're ever going to be interested in is any kind of change in moral values that might diminish those profits.

Change would happen at the universities, and that would start with parents and students. It would come from parents strongly discouraging their kids from attending colleges and universities that make huge profits from fake success in fake college sports.

And the same parents might also tell their kids, "Bring me an honest C-plus or B-minus any day before you show up here with Adderall grades, and, by the way, who is your favorite professor and what's the best book you read this semester?"

How likely is that? Forbes reports that last year while the image of Sandusky doing it to children in the shower room was new and vivid in the minds of Penn State alums, 191,712 donors were motivated to kick in $209 million for the second richest fund-raising year in the school's history.

I don't kid myself. I'm rattling around in the dark here. Anybody see my keys?