One Penn St. Fan’s Thoughts

[From the CEO: The following is the first guest post on the site, from none other then podcast partner, and die hard Penn St. fan Chris. These are Chris’ opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Berserk Hippo]

Being the biggest Penn State football fan many people know, the last few days I have been repeatedly asked how this scandal affects me and my fandom. I figured I would weigh in with my thoughts and opinions on the matter. I need to stress that these are my opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own. These opinions are based on the information as it is known at the time of this post. It must also be noted that I am a Penn State fan and I am certainly not looking at this as a complete outsider.

Why do I love Penn State? I grew up in Chicago. I did not attend Penn State and didn’t visit the campus until I was 20, but for as long I can remember I have been a fan. My love of Penn State did not start because of a family member passing it down or a geographic sense of loyalty – it was based on a logo. I was about 10 years old when I first saw the Penn State logo – the oval lion head design. Lionlogo I loved it. That’s where my love of Penn State began. I soon started to watch and learn about the football team. I loved the plain uniforms. I loved watching them in 1994 with Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins. I soon learned about Joe Paterno and I loved JoePa too.

Joe Paterno was everything that was right about football. He did everything the right way and always set a terrific example. He was extremely successful as a Division 1 football coach and could have gone on to bigger jobs, but decided he could do the most good at Penn State. He also ran an incredibly clean program. There were never stories about problems with boosters or recruiting violations at Penn State. He did everything above board. He regularly kicked players off the team if they did not comply with his way of doing things. He always said his goal was to develop these players into good men first and foremost and then to make them into good football players. I admired this. I admired what he built at Penn State. I think it is a consensus opinion that up until about 5 days ago, Joe Paterno was the epitome of a college football coach and of a man. He spent 60+ years making Penn State great and affecting thousands (maybe millions) of individuals in a positive way.

Saying all of this, he probably handled the Sandusky 2002 shower situation incorrectly. An inappropriate activity was reported to him (as I write this, we still do not know what exactly was told to Paterno) and he did exactly what he was legally obligated to do – report it to his superiors. This sounds to me like he immediately consulted with an attorney (either personal or the school’s) and followed the advice given. We live in an extremely litigious society (I would know) and there may have been ramifications considered in the event that this turned out to be less serious than it was. He would, in essence, have been alleging abuse and possibly opening up civil liability for himself and the school. While there is the question of a moral responsibility, from a legal standpoint, he did everything correctly.

My major issue here is the immediate, rapid-fire news cycle that has developed. Everyone is quick to skewer Paterno and go on and on about how they would have done things differently. This is all with the benefit of hindsight. We still don’t know exactly what Paterno was told. We have access to the grand jury report, but not to Paterno’s actual testimony. I am certain that Paterno will address this in the near future, but until then, it is imprudent to rush to judgment. Even though this is true, it seems as if everyone in the media and beyond has gone out and rushed to judgment.

If all of the allegations are true, Sandusky is a monster, plain and simple. That is what everyone knows now. At the time of this incident, the perception was that Sandusky was a great friend to the program. He was a man who started a charity and helped children (sick when looking back, but in the time would have seemed admirable). This was a guy who had adopted a number of children and who was seen around campus with the other kids that he was purportedly helping (we now know otherwise). He was a member of the Penn State family for nearly 30 years and a big reason why the Penn State is known as Linebacker U. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d imagine he was a close friend to Paterno.

Taking all of this into consideration, I can see how difficult it would be for Paterno when he was given this information. First of all, did he believe it? In my heart of hearts, and based on the fact that Paterno is such an outstanding man (in all other areas except this one); I believe that Paterno did not hear that Sandusky was committing rape. I believe if Paterno knew the severity of what was happening, he would have reported it to the police, or at the very least confronted Sandusky and advised him to turn himself in. Secondly, Paterno did not know Sandusky to be this alleged monster, but instead probably thought of him as a close friend. Maybe it was impossible for Paterno to imagine his friend committing these heinous acts. Maybe that is why Paterno believed it was less serious than it actually was. It might have been unimaginable that his friend could be doing these things. Personally, I would struggle with reports of my close friends committing such disturbing things. I can honestly say that my first reaction would be disbelief. I would simply not believe it if someone were to tell me something like this about one of my good friends. I certainly hope to never receive a report like this, but if I did, it would be extremely difficult and I don’t know that my reaction could be predicted, even with the best of intentions.

I believe there is a difference between a mistake and an act done with malice. Paterno did not act as a bad man. He is not a bad man. His history alone tells you this. He made a mistake. His judgment may have been suspect, but Sandusky was the bad actor here. Paterno was not acting in a way to cover up and promote this abuse. I think that is something that is missing in all of the reporting. People are reacting to Paterno’s actions as if it was a cover-up. I have serious doubts about that and from what we know he reported it, and did not cover it up.

I have also heard numerous people say that had they been McQueary, they would have immediately gone into the shower and caused some sort of harm to Sandusky. I call BS. I do believe there is a subset of individuals who would have that reaction, but many and more would not. I cannot know exactly what McQueary was thinking at that very moment, but I can only imagine he was in a state of shock. McQueary is a State College guy and grew up around the program. He played quarterback for Penn State in the late 90’s and has stayed on as coach. At the time of this incident, he was a graduate assistant making his way up the coaching chain. He witnessed a man he knew to be a huge part of the Penn State football program doing something more disturbing than most any of us will ever witness first-hand. He freaked out. I cannot say for sure I would have done anything differently if I were in his shoes. I’d like to believe that I would be the tough guy who runs in and beats the crap out of Sandusky right there, but given the situation, I just don’t know. McQueary should have reported this to the police because he witnessed a violent crime, but I can see how he may have felt as though he’d be sacrificing his career and everything he knew by doing so. Again – I do not condone it, I am just trying to understand his point of view. He had a first-hand visual account of the incident and was best suited to report it to the police. He made a mistake in not doing so. As a Penn State fan, I really wish he had.

Now – am I still a Penn State fan? I’m still not positive (the rate at which news is coming out I would not be surprised to hear something soon that forces me to detach myself), but I think yes. Penn State is an amazing place. The football team has brought me a tremendous amount of joy (and heartache) throughout my life. I have created a tradition with my friend Jon of going to State College each year to see a home game and those weekends have become great, cherished memories. I was in attendance two weeks ago when Joe Paterno coached his last game at Penn State (no one knew this fact at the time) and became the winningest coach in Division 1 history. I had a great time that weekend. Penn State and the town of State College has been Happy Valley to hundreds of thousands of individuals. It is a majestic place. We know that no place is perfect and that has hit the Penn State community hard. What was an idealistic place in the heart of Pennsylvania has forever lost its innocence. It has been rocked by this scandal, but I think, and hope it can persevere.

It must be remembered that this controversy involves the sick, sadistic actions by a single individual. If these allegations are true, he should be punished accordingly. Those who learned of these actions did not act in the best possible manner and they have suffered the consequences and should suffer more if the individuals perjured themselves before the Grand Jury. Penn State, however, was not and is not a breeding ground for pedophiles. This was not a grand scheme to allow Sandusky access to kids. This was terrible acts on the part of a single man and the failure to properly deal with these actions by other individuals.

Those who were told of the incident made an omission – a serious one. They have been removed. Joe Paterno had to leave. The whirlwind that began a few days ago was getting worse and worse. There is no way he could have or should have been coaching the team at this point. The administrators (Curley, Schultz, Spanier) also were correctly let go. This was an administrative omission that should never have occurred. The only way Penn State can move forward is with a clean slate. That is happening. I cannot imagine the remainder of this coaching staff remaining part of the Penn State football program after this season. So many of them have been around for decades – from a time when Sandusky was still a coach. While they may never have known about these acts, they are forever tainted. This is unfortunate for the players and the coaches themselves who have no wrongdoing on their hands, but in order to move on, the taint must be removed.

Penn State football, and the school as a whole will be able to start anew with this purge, but it must be remembered that all of the innocent people harmed by Sandusky will be unable to start anew. That is the travesty. I feel terrible for these kids and their families. All of my prayers and wishes go out to them. It pains me to know that the school known for being Happy Valley will forever be associated with the acts of a single terrible person. Using hindsight, it is clear Joe Paterno should have done more than he did, but he was not the monster here. It saddens me to no end that he is going out like this. After 60+ years of doing incredible things for the school and the people encompassing it, one failure is what he will be remembered for.

I will be rooting for Penn State this weekend against Nebraska. There are 125 guys on that team that weren’t even in high school when this occurred. They have worked hard and played with integrity – the Penn State way. I will continue to be a fan of the football team and I plan on making my annual pilgrimage to State College in 2012. I hope and pray that the school’s newly selected administrators and the new Penn State football coach can return this program to its previous highs and continue the tradition of Success with Honor.