Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We Were. . . Penn State

Anyone who has ever set foot inside Beaver Stadium on a football Saturday at Penn State can attest to the fact that the mood is electrifying.

When half of the stadium yells "We Are" while the other half echoes "Penn State!", the atmosphere in Happy Valley is more than the combined efforts of 100,000 plus fans cheering on their team. It is a reflection of the belief these fans hold in their football team and its coach. It is also a statement of pride for the integrity of the university that sponsors them.

Scandal is nothing new to college football. And Penn State certainly is not immune to the pressure that any top-level collegiate team is under to perform at its best and, above all, win.

The difference has been the refusal of its coach and athletic department to bend to that "win at any cost" philosophy. In the past, there have been players who were placed on academic probation, were involved in questionable behaviors on or off campus or have been proven to accept gifts from boosters. They either were suspended or dismissed from the team. There were no attempts to make excuses or circumvent regulations.

The fact is that Penn State Coach Joe Paterno understood something that many others do not: that winning a game at the cost of your integrity is no victory at all.

That philosophy seems to have been lost amidst scandal now that allegations of child molestation have been brought against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky allegedly abused young boys that he "mentored" under the guise of a charity he started for underprivileged young men.

This action in itself is inexcusable. Worse yet is the fact that university officials knew of these accusations. How much they knew is unclear, but their behavior most definitely must come into question. Even Paterno is not unscathed since he reported an incident of abuse witnessed in 2002 by a member of his staff to athletic director Tim Curley.

Granted, Paterno was relaying something second-hand and had no authority over Sandusky, who had retired several years earlier. But Paterno also knew of his close affiliations with children. Wouldn't you, at the very least, follow up with university officials on the status of the investigation? And why did no one bother to report this incident to authorities?

Curley and Penn State Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, both of whom have been implicated in covering up the scandal, have departed the university. Rumors abound that President Graham Spanier and Paterno himself will be next.

I have been following this story in the press, on Facebook and on Twitter. I can say that, as a Penn State alum, this has rocked us all to the core. No one is defending the actions of the university. No one is placing the blame on the the victims themselves, the police, NCAA regulations, or any of the other nonsense that usually crops up in college sports scandals.

We are upset. We are disheartened. Above all, we all share in the embarrassment brought upon our university. We are demanding justice for the victims.

It is disheartening to know that our beloved Penn State, in which our very alma mater states "may no act of ours bring shame," is affiliated with such a horrible situation.

On behalf of all Penn Staters, I apologize to these young men whose lives have been ruined, possibly at the cost of Penn State's desire to protect its reputation. You deserved better. College athletics deserve better. Above all, those of us who love Penn State--and now mourn the loss of some of that Nittany Lion pride--deserve an explanation.

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