Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Great Moments In NCAA Hypocrisy: How Penn State Defended Its Integrity, Seven Years After It Sold Out (Updated)

There is too much amazing material in Taylor Branch's Atlantic piece about the NCAA for us to handle it all at once, so we're just going to keep pulling shiny gems from the treasure trove whenever a new one catches our eye. So: The piece begins with a scene in 2001 where legendary shoe-company fixer Sonny Vaccaro tells a bunch of eminent college-athletics officials that they're all for sale and he's going to buy them. This is very offensive to the proper-thinking NCAA folks:

Not all the members could hide their scorn for the "sneaker pimp" of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.

"Why," asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, "should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?"


Vaccaro's response was a putdown so savage and accurate that if the people he'd been addressing had been anything other than empty husks, corrupted beyond all shaming, they would have all resigned on the spot. But he was talking to husks.

Take Bryce Jordan. Seven years before he struck his pose against crass commercialism, back when he was Penn State's president, the Nittany Lions added a new design element to their Spartan navy-and-white football uniforms: the Nike swoosh, a lone high-contrast exception to the team's no-logo policy.


The Omaha World Herald, citing the Des Moines Register, wrote in 1994 that Penn State's players had wanted to wear completely unadorned uniforms. Coach Joe Paterno had a different opinion:

"I said we have to get that Nike patch on. That's where we get our shoes from. They like 'em that way, which is fine with me because I like 'em."

What Nike likes, Joe Paterno likes. In 1995, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that Penn State was keeping the logos, "as part of a $2.6 million agreement between the school's athletic department and the shoe company."

There's your symbol of principled amateurism: a crisp white Nike swoosh, on a jersey unsullied by the name of the player who wears it. The NCAA is all about priorities.

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