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Friday, November 07, 2014

Rushes to Judgment

There are a few headlines this week that are potentially giving perspective to serious situations that turned into feeding frenzies, as follows:

1.  Did the NCAA rush to judgment in punishing Penn State's football program?  The report is that the NCAA bluffed because it didn't really know if it had the right to do what it did.  I thought at the time and still believe now that a) the NCAA didn't have the right to do what it did because while what Jerry Sandusky did was awful the football program didn't commit the violations of the type that are within the NCAA's purview, b) because it wasn't on solid footing (if any at all) it was setting a bad precedent for the future and c) there is so much hypocrisy, anyway, that what would it do when investigative reporters turn up dirt on probably mostly every SEC school?  And, for what it's worth, what is it going to do to North Carolina? 

2.  Did Penn State rush to judgment in firing Joe Paterno?  Penn State was in a difficult spot, and while Governor Tom Corbett expressed his regrets today, there were many other factors at work that made the Paterno situation difficult.  First, Paterno let himself be turned into a demi-god, and Penn State let Paterno become bigger than the institution.  Second, Paterno had no succession plan and wasn't gracious enough to help the university figure out one (guaranteeing martyrdom).  Third, it seemed that despite Penn State's excellent reputation generally, there were problems with the culture surrounding the football program, or at least with respect to its general accountability within the university (and there were some odd facts regarding the Sandusky affair).  I do think that Joe Paterno should have retired long before he was fired, but all of the facts combined for the result that occurred -- a very unhappy ending.  Most observers could have seen that problem (more than two) miles away.

3.  If the issue is whether Ray Rice told the truth about hitting his now-wife in his June meeting with the NFL, then who missed what, and will Rice be reinstated to the league?  Ray Rice (who has done some very good charitable things around the country, including in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York, but also with pediatric patients in Baltimore) did a terrible thing.  The Ravens erred in not disciplining him; the NFL exacerbated it by not disciplining him hard enough.  (And I am not clear what the collective bargaining agreement between the players' union and the league provides on this subject).  I think all can agree upon that.  It also seems clear that the NFL decided to ban Rice indefinitely after the famous video came out of Rice's slugging his wife in the elevator.  What is not clear at all is whether that was the first time anyone in the NFL had access to or saw that video or whether Rice had admitted decking his wife in the June meeting.   If the answer to the first part is yes they had access and yes they saw it and the answer to the second part is yes, he came clean, then the issue becomes solely whether the NFL goofed in the severity of the punishment.  While the fact remains that Rice did a terrible thing, the overall story changes a bit because what comes into question is not whether Rice told the truth, but why the NFL did what it did.  It seems like the NFL has taken steps to address domestic violence, but unless there is a means under the collective bargaining agreement to get Rice's ban lifted because the NFL violated procedure in its inquiry, Rice's suspension probably will continue.  All that said, the continuation of this sad saga in the press is bad for the Ravens, the league and Commissioner Goodell. 

And all of this speaks to rushes to judgment.  The public rushed to judgment during the Boston Massacre and then in the Duke lacrosse fiasco.  In the former, the British soldiers weren't guilty, and in the latter the Duke players weren't guilty, either.  It was the case that the colonials didn't want the British soldiers in their midst, and it might have been the case that certain members of the Duke team had behavioral issues (not major) for which they always weren't held accountable.  But by no means did that make them guilty of the very serious charges that faced them.  With regard to the sanctions handed out to the Penn State football program, the NCAA probably rushed to judgment because of the nature of Sandusky's crimes, although what happened at Penn State was unclear and Paterno's almost dictatorial control over the athletic department was a problem.  In the case of firing Paterno, while Penn State loyalists to this day will back their coach, the situation was rather complicated.  I don't think it would have been possible to give Joe a gracious exit -- he didn't want to leave at all, let alone gracefully.  As for Rice, the facts are bad, but when they're almost radioactive, we have to be careful to develop the facts carefully before rendering judgment.  Everyone is entitled to a defense, and if we forget that we have much bigger problems than whether our beloved football team plays on Saturdays.

All of this underscores the point that all of the facts have to be developed before conclusions can be drawn.  And while "justice delayed is justice denied," justice rushed could be injustice absent a good process and a thorough review. 

Just ask the kids on that Duke lacrosse team, who would much rather be known as college lacrosse players who played on a good team than having been in the spotlight for a feeding frenzy that transpired because others rushed to judgment.


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