Former Penn men’s basketball star and coach Jerome Allen pleaded guilty to bribery in October 2018 and recently testified in federal court that he received approximately $300,000 in bribes from Philip Esformes, the father of a current Wharton senior, in order to help Esformes’ son get into Penn as a recruited athlete. This testimony came just days before the national college admissions scandal, which has called into question the values and practices of elite universities.
Penn Athletics, which inducted Allen to the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in May 2017, has not yet commented on whether it plans to remove this honor. In light of the revelations that Allen accepted bribes, however, he must be removed from the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.
While Allen had a storied history as a basketball player, having been named Ivy league Player of the Year twice and a part of three Ivy championship teams at Penn, his accomplishments do not make up for the fact that he broke the law.
“I accepted the money to help Morris Esformes get into the school,” Allen testified in Miami federal court, the Miami Herald reported. “I got his son into Penn; I got his son into Wharton. None of that would have happened without me.”
Some may argue that Allen’s achievements as an athlete are not related to his character and moral values and that it is possible to separate the artist from the art. However, according to the Penn Athletics website, “The University of Pennsylvania Athletic Department established the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996 to honor the greatest athletes and coaches ever to wear or coach the Red and Blue.” It is up to Penn to define what being a great athlete means, and we believe that should encompass both character and skill.
The honor of being a member of the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame should be reserved not only for distinguished athletes, but also those with honorable characters. It devalues the accomplishments of other notable alumni or coaches while Allen — who participated in bribery in order to help someone’s son get into Penn on false pretenses — is allowed to maintain membership.
"I failed on many levels. Primarily, I had a failure of character. I did not live up to the high standards I set for myself, or were expected of me in the position that I held. I am sorry. I let down my family, my friends, my alma mater, and my Celtics family. Even more important, I was not true to my faith. I let down my God," Allen said in a statement after pleading guilty.
Penn has previously removed the names of and revoked honorary degrees from alumni who have allegedly taken part in morally ambiguous practices like Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby. While the circumstances in Allen’s case are much different, it is imperative that the University hold members of the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame to a high standard, and not put those who have committed crimes on a pedestal.
When Penn honors a man who has broken federal law, it lowers the bar for the University, and sets a bad precedent for current students.
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