The NCAA has come down hard on Penn State — hitting them with a $60 million fine, reducing existing scholarships, and stripping the football program of Joe Paterno’s wins since 1998. Whether the punishment fits the crime is a matter of debate, but the only true opportunity that Penn State has in changing the past is with what it does in the future. It can rehabilitate itself as an institution by:
1. Redefining the locker room culture. Penn State could get ahead of the curve by creating a cultural shift away from the uninformed and “don’t really want to know” code that colors college sports. Silence would not be accepted in such a place nor would inaction.
(MORE: Silence in the Locker Room)
2. Becoming a leader in awareness of abuse. Just as the NFL has found a way to now lead in concussion awareness and protocol, Penn State can be the beacon of how to identify, understand, and respond to abuse. Abuse is a tragically consistent part of our society and maybe it took a high profile athletic program to bring this fact to light. Now this high profile program can take this torch and illuminate new protocols, helping victims feel more at ease to speak out or prevent someone from becoming a victim in the first place.
(MORE: Sandusky Verdict: Will Reporting Rates for Sex Abuse Improve?)
3. Having more transparency and accountability, especially within their community. No doubt, Penn State has a lot of goodwill from decades of their connection to the larger State College community. It should give that community more power, which will temper its sovereign status. Let the community be the judge of how their acts and works are effecting change.
No one can heal the scars of those victims, nor is one institution wholly capable of repairing the damage it has done from policy, personnel, and blind eyes. But in its future, Penn State could create systems that can protect the vulnerable and live up to the responsibility that comes with great influence and power. Penn State is lucky. It gets to start over.