The decision of Penn State’s trustees to fire the storied football coach Joe Paterno and the president of the university is a strong, and a fairly unusual, statement in our sports-obsessed society that there are more important things than winning.
A friend calls my attention to an even more dramatic case that I wouldn’t have remembered on my own in which a university president made an even stronger statement by suspending the entire basketball program for three years to try to purge it of a culture of corruption.
Does the name Quintin Dailey ring a bell? I’m a sports fan, and the name conjured up for me a moderately successful NBA guard who played with Michael Jordan.
He starred at the University of San Francisco in the early 1980s, but in a drunken stupor, he sexually assaulted a nursing student after threatening her with a weapon. After pleading guilty Daily was sentenced to three years probation and never served time in prison.
But during his run-in with the courts, evidence also surfaced that a USF basketball booster had paid Dailey $1,000 a month for a no-show summer job. USF’s once-great basketball program had been place on probation twice before for violating NCAA rules. After Dailey’s disgrace, the Rev. John Lo Schiavo, president of the Jesuit university, didn’t wait for the NCAA to impose sanctions. He canceled the entire basketball program for three seasons, after stating that the repeated violations showed that the program had become “hypocritical or naïve or inept or duplicitous, or perhaps some combination of these.”
My only purpose in writing about this is to highlight what it looks like when an educator really wants to demonstrate that there is something more important going on in college than the sports teams and to publish that statement just above and the next one:
“All the legitimate purposes of an athletic program in an educational institution are being distorted by the athletic program as it developed,” Lo Schiavo said.
Of course, many young USF athletes who had done nothing wrong paid the price. That is sad but not tragic. Unfortunately, Dailey paid a much smaller price. He was done with college hoops anyway and was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bulls. He played for 10 seasons, earning a couple of million (chump change compared to the ridiculous amounts paid to NBA starters and high draft picks nowadays).
The NYTimes obituary, from which most of this brief biography is cribbed, says: “He had problem upon problem, many self-induced. He missed practices and games, gained 30 pounds in a single season, twice violated the league’s drug policy, once attempted suicide and took leaves of absence for psychiatric care.”
By a small quirk, Daily died on Nov. 9, 2010, one year and one day before the Penn State board acted in its own case. That one is also sad for the school and its football fans but tragic only for the victims of the sex crimes that brought it about.
Sports are nice, but perhaps not worth the price our society pays for them.