The wrong kind of time travel

Time travel has become sadly common in the news these days. Retroactive resignations. Altering what was said and what wasn’t.

Most recently, the NCAA has gone back in time and changed Joe Paterno's record. They've vacated his wins since 1998. The statue is in storage.

Of course this just points out more clearly the part of the past you cannot change.

A good indication of whether or not something really matters is whether or not you can decide, as a committee, that it did not happen. I am not talking about authoritarian states where you can erase entire lives from the record. But Miss Americas can be removed and replaced. Olympic medals, gripping as they are, can be assigned and reassigned.

Sure, the NCAA can remove 111 wins. It can fine. It can ban the post-season. But that is the extent of its power. You can alter the scoreboard and take down the plaque. But the part that really counts — the part that everyone ignored because of all the More Important things that turned out, when you applied an eraser to them, to be just numbers on a page — those don’t disappear. If only someone had realized that at the time. Records can be scratched out, easily, it turns out. But you cannot undo what Jerry Sandusky did to those kids.

If the NCAA could really alter the past, their priorities would be all wrong. And this would come as no surprise to anyone. Yes, go back to 1998! Un-win the games! Destroy the record! Sure, sure. But what about those kids?

It turns out that you can alter the past. Just not the part that matters. And the future? Who knows.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".

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