...to one heart that loves thy name,
May our lives but swell thy fame.
Dear old State, dear old State."
--Penn State Alma Mater
"Sundown on a Legend"
University Park, PA
"May No Act of Ours' Bring Shame"
State College, PA
(the town mural of notable Penn Stater's, where former coach Jerry Sandusky has been painted over and replaced by a blue ribbon, the symbol of child abuse awareness)
If EVER there was an "Out of the Blue", it hit with full force this past week in Happy Valley and reverberated around the world. It drove home the fact that character is much easier to maintain, than to recover.
Some background for those who don't know me well...I am Penn State. I met my Better Half while a sophomore in Happy Valley. The Better Half wrestled for the Blue and White. My two sisters followed at Penn State. Thing #1 was brought home from the hospital proudly donning a Penn State one-sie. Things #1, #2 and #3 have all gone out for Halloween as Joe Paterno, a Penn State cheerleader, and the Nittany Lion respectively. Thing #1 was captain of the Penn State baseball team and MVP for two years. Thing #2 was a Schreyer's Honor College student at Penn State. Thing #3 has been told she doesn't HAVE to go to Penn State BUT....we shall see. We are football season ticket holders and have a second home in Happy Valley. We ARE Penn State. Which makes this a difficult post to write.
I am use to seeing Penn State in the National spotlight. We are a "Public Ivy". We have the the world's largest student run philanthropic organization, THON. We have one of the largest alumni associations in the world. And we have football and Joe Paterno. Now we have scandal, shame and extreme sadness for the victims...and that a blind eye was cast by so many, for so long. The world was looking at Penn State this past week, and will continue to do so. We are now defined by one horrible and indefensible action...that of doing NOTHING.
"The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology"
-- Red Auerbach
To add insult to injury, Penn State continued to be negatively defined by the actions of 2,000 (out of 55,000) students who's rioting in support of the firing of football coach Joe Paterno, was broadcast not only nationally....but internationally. I was embarrassed and appalled by their actions. They did not speak for me, or for any other Penn Stater I know. Therefore, when the Nebraska Cornhuskers came to town this weekend, for the first football game in over 61 years at Penn State WITHOUT Joe Paterno on the sidelines...the presence of security was everywhere.
Many only know Joe Paterno as a football coach. But to Penn Staters, he is so much more. Not only has he put Penn State on the map as a football powerhouse, he has helped put the university on the map as an academic powerhouse too. Millions of dollars have been donated by Joepa to both the university and the town. Joepa lives right off the north end of campus, in the same small home he and Sue Paterno raised their family in. You can often see him walking in town and to the creamery for an ice cream (yep, they named a flavor after him "Peachy Paterno"..their biggest seller). He is one of "us". Which is why the news that altho Joepa did react correctly "legally" in responding to allegations that atrocities towards children were occurring by Mr. Sandusky within the the walls of his football program...it wasn't enough. We expect more from our icons and legends. Heck, we expect more from everyday citizens. Passing the buck, putting one's head in the sand, turning a blind's eye...whatever you want to call it...it just simply was not enough and children suffered when they didn't have to.
So much sadness to go around. So much poor handling of horrible situations, all around. Heads have rolled, legends have tumbled, and the major perpetrator JERRY SANDUSKY has largely been forgotten, for the present time being, as the focus has fallen upon Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program. So perhaps it is fitting that the healing begins with the football program. Which is exactly what happened on Saturday when the Penn State Nittany Lions met the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Beaver Stadium. No Joe Paterno within the walls of the house he built. His first row bus seat remained empty as the players' buses rolled towards the stadium. Traditionally, the Nittany Lions are lead out onto the field in a run from the tunnels by Joepa himself. What would happen on Saturday? Should it even matter?
Sometimes the thoughtless actions of young and old are brought into clearer focus by the simple action of another. No exuberant explosion onto the field this Saturday. But a group of young men who slowly walked arm and arm in solidarity, lead by no one but themselves.
And then the Nebraska Cornhuskers walked from their sideline to extend a hand to their opponents and counterparts at center field. It was the simplest yet most profound gesture of community I had witnessed in a long time. Together they knelt at the 50 yard line for prayer, and the 100,000+ in the stands grew silent. So silent you could literally hear the proverbial pin drop in Beaver Stadium. Whether you believe in God or not, there was a presence greater than all of us in the stadium at that moment.
And who would have thought on that Saturday afternoon, perhaps some healing had begun and we were defined by something grander and greater than football and scandal...and it came, out of the blue.
For the Glory, For the Kids...