FIRST PERSON | I'm not a Penn State lifer. Far from it. My oldest brother was a diehard follower of the Michigan Wolverines, and I, like all younger brothers who look up to their older siblings, chose to root for the maize and blue. I continued to do so for more than a decade after he passed away at the age of 20 (after he lost a battle with lymphoma), and it never occurred to me that attending Penn State would cause me to have a change of heart.
Funny thing about Penn State though: It grabs you almost immediately. The traditions, classic blue and white uniforms and seemingly eternal head coach who has been there longer than your parents have been alive are all pretty hard to resist.
Meeting Joe Paterno certainly didn't help matters. I've proudly told many friends and fellow Penn Staters about those two brief encounters. Paterno truly is, pardon the cliché, a larger-than-life personality, one who also has the ability to make you feel like it's his honor, not yours, to be having a 30-second talk.
On November 8, days after the Jerry Sandusky case was made public, a friend and fellow Penn State alum asked me why this entire matter hurt so much. I told him it's because "We Are" is more than just the start to a popular phrase used by Penn State students and fans. It was a motto that, up until last weekend, actually meant something special to everybody in the Penn State family.
I've since had an extra 36 hours or so to think about the entire scenario. There's another reason all of us, myself included, feel especially gutted and even somewhat guilty regarding this matter. We at Penn State were so enamored with Joe Paterno's legend that, for decade after decade after decade, we built him up on a pedestal as high as the Tower of Babel. Then, a large group of those supporters attempted to catch that same legend when it plummeted back down to earth.
Neither Penn State students rioting Wednesday night nor otherwise intelligent adults publicly supporting Paterno through thick and thin, even after the release of the sickening 23-page grand jury report, are "idiots." Such a strong loyalty causes individuals to think and act differently than those who don't feel such emotions toward an entity.
It was, and still is for some, absolutely impossible that our Joe Paterno, the Joe Pa beloved for generations, was capable of doing anything other than the right thing regarding anything resembling the Jerry Sandusky case.
Except he didn't; and he admitted that he didn't. In a statement released Wednesday morning, Paterno told the world, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." That was all I needed to see to know that Paterno could no longer be affiliated with Penn State. When you admit that you "could have done more" regarding a case that involves the sexual abuse of any amount of minors, you have to go. It doesn't matter if you're (arguably) the most legendary figure in a sport or the manager of the local grocery store.
Joe Paterno apologists can save me the "legally and morally obligated" line I've been seeing over the past couple of days. We know that Paterno and others within Penn State football were aware of allegations made against Sandusky early last decade, and that Sandusky was banned from bringing children onto campus at that time. Regardless, Sandusky was seen at a PSU practice with an underage male as recently as 2007. Former Penn State players, such as linebacker Paul Posluszny, have remarked that Sandusky was seen "all over the place" several years after the 2002 allegations. One friend of mine posted a picture online of Sandusky at Beaver Stadium during Penn State's last home game. How is it possible that nobody, not Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary (the then graduate student who reportedly witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a minor in 2002) or anybody else, prevented Sandusky from hanging around? It's unfathomable to me.
Penn State football begins and ends with Joe Paterno. I've heard it for decades. Serious mistakes were made by those at the top of the Paterno PSU administration, some by the man himself, and ignoring that fact because of all Paterno did for the university is absolute madness. Don't tell me I don't "get it." I've studied in the Paterno Library, and heard the stories about Joe Pa donating more to the university than we'll ever know. No amount of money or players positively impacted by the man excuse his inability to properly act in this case.
My message to the world outside of the Penn State family is this: Please be patient with us. We are absolutely heartbroken that such heinous acts were even possible, let alone that they allegedly happened right underneath all of our noses. Had you told me one week ago today that Paterno would be unceremoniously fired by the PSU Board of Trustees before Saturday's Nebraska game, and that the university would be rocked by what is quickly becoming the most disturbing scandal in the history of collegiate athletics, I would have laughed in your face.
My message to the Penn State world is this: Joe Paterno is no victim here. I understand what you're feeling, and I too still have admiration for the man who did so much for my beloved Dear Old State for decades. I also realize that, if this is all true, Sandusky, not Paterno, is the true monster in all of this. You can't be a scapegoat when you're the guy at the top, though. Young lives were forever damaged by the decisions and actions of individuals in the Paterno administration. The board of trustees made the difficult but correct call in firing Joe Paterno. Now we all must do what we can to heal Penn State.
Let's hope it doesn't take 60-plus years to do so.
- Joe Paterno
- Penn State