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Commentary: Reviewing disturbing news from a depressing week

Last October, when I was helping one of The Aegis news reporters put together a story on a student athlete who had allegedly committed a sexual assault against a teenage girl, I wrote in one of my Friday columns that, as a sportswriter, I'm usually insulated from the problems and ugliness of the real world.

I don't have to dig very hard to find the truth, because the facts are right there in the box score. The IronBirds scored more runs than the opposition, so they win, case closed. People's opinions as to why the IronBirds scored more runs might differ, but those differences of opinion usually don't result in violence, or anyone's life being ruined. Nobody is going to die or come to grievous bodily harm if the IronBirds lose 50 straight games, I'll just have a tough time getting the players to talk to me after the games.

One of the reasons I got out of journalism after my first go-around, a two-year stint I spent as a police, fire and court reporter, was that I was heartsick from having to call the parents of accident victims to get a statements, of listening to all the voices in a criminal case and realizing that each of them was spinning self-protective lies, of being threatened with a slander lawsuit because I'd written that somebody had received their ninth DUI charge, when it really only the eighth time they'd been pulled over drunk. Sports are a better fit for sensitive types like me.

This week, however, having not interviewed anyone but minor-league ballplayers and coaches since the IronBirds' season started, I was asked to write articles on the NCAA sanctions handed down to Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, and the abduction of Vi Ripken. Both required me to conduct serious interviews, and both transported me back to my days on the police beat, when things were much more complicated than could be figured out with a box score.

As for the NCAA's punishment of Penn State's football program and administration for allegedly sweeping Sandusky's crimes under the rug ($60 million fine, reduction of football scholarships from 25 to 15, four-year post-season ban, five years of probation), I think they're something of a joke. Penn State probably has the biggest and most generous alumni association in the country, so the fine will be covered in a matter of months, while the other penalties are being paid for largely by the athletes, who had zero to do with Sandusky's crimes or the buffoonery of the Penn State administration that allowed them to continue. What Sandusky did was horrific, to be sure, and nobody should ever think of this situation without first giving thought to how many young boys' lives he ruined, but his misconduct and the alleged whitewashing are criminal and civil matters, so the NCAA should let the legal system handle penalties. Unless, of course, president Mark Emmert wants the NCAA to become the moral arbiter for this nation's colleges. I doubt he does.

In the case of Vi Ripken, who was found in the back of her own vehicle, hands bound together, about 24 hours after being abducted from her Aberdeen home at gunpoint, I keep asking myself, who would do that? My aforementioned experience as a police and court reporter exposed me to a lot of criminals, and that exposure showed me that many criminals wind up living the lives they do not out of any inherent evilness or laziness, but because they're desperate. That's not an excuse for their crimes, I think you should have to do your time if you point a gun in the face of a convenience store clerk whether you're strung out on drugs or not. But, more often than not, when I hear about some criminal act, I find myself thinking, "what drove that person to do that?" Well, I don't really care what would drive a person to abduct a 74-year-old woman, because it doesn't matter. That's despicable and I hope they catch whomever did it.

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