If you have read anything that I have written here concerning college football, you know that my sports-watching life has revolved around the Penn State Nittany Lions. The first sports team I ever followed, the first team I identified with, wore plain blue and white with black shoes.
I still have pencil drawings I did in elementary school of Curtis Enis, Joe Jurevicius, Courtney Brown, LaVarr Arrington and Brandon Short. I remember watching Larry Johnson go over 2000 yards against Michigan State. I was a kid then, I am a father now, and I have taught her the “We Are… Penn State” chant. I taught her that Joe Paterno was “Grandpa Joe”.
This week has been a hurricane of emotion. I sat at my computer last Saturday morning and read the grand jury testimony. I have my own personal reasons to feel a connection with those boys, and it was that connection that fueled my outrage, my disgust, my anger, my sadness, my heartbreak. The fact that this happened is hard to grasp, the fact that his happened at my school, under my coach, the coach who has built a 60-plus year career on doing the right thing, on doing it the right way, is beyond anything I have ever felt.
I have been cheering for this team so long that I remember when Mike McQuery was the redheaded quarterback, not the former GA who witnessed his coach raping a young boy.
I have tried to approach this with a level head, with a sense of perspective. There are those, like the kids “rioting” last night, who believe that Joe was unfairly treated, that he did what he was supposed to do by forwarding what McQuery told him up the chain of command, and that he has been little more than fodder for a witch hunt. To those young people who are so upset over the treatment of a man who they held up to a God-like status, I would remind them that Joe is not the victim here. The victims are those young boys who safety was not looked after by the people who had the power to do something for them.
It is my belief (read opinion) that Joe did what he thought was best for the program. I believe that Joe knew what was happening in ’98 when he informed Sandusky he wouldn’t be taking over as head coach. I believe that Joe knew that if he were to report it then, or in ’02, that it would look bad for the program, that Sandusky’s actions would topple the program, and he therefore sat on what he knew, did the bare minimum, and went on enabling the violation of those boys.
I understand people’s anger towards McQuery for not stepping in and stopping what he witnessed in that shower. I would only caution people to remember that McQuery grew up with Paterno and Sandusky’s kids, and at the time, he was a 22-year old GA, hoping to someday get a job coaching at the school. I can see how, seeing what he saw, and his relationships with Paterno and Sandusky, he must have thought he was doing right. Clearly, he wasn’t and as such, should be out of a job today as well.
My sports world is in complete turmoil right now, and it is causing me to feel very conflicted about all of this. The manner in which this all came about is just about the worst set of circumstances imaginable. The fac that it needed to happen, that Joe needed to be shown the door, was inevitable. Clearly, in his arrogance and stubbornness, witnessed through the statement he released yesterday, Joe was never going to leave of his own accord.
This program needs to begin to rebuild itself. The problem is, that unlike other schools, where fans identify with the uniform, or the stadium, or the team colors, or the helmets, or touchdown Jesus, fans identified with the 84 year-old man who was shown the door last night following the biggest scandal in the history of college sports. Never again will he stalk up and down the sidelines yelling at no one in particular, black shoes, white socks, khakis rolled up, coke bottle glasses…
Saturday’s game against Nebraska with a potential Rose Bowl bid on the line, was supposed to be the start of the fair well. A chance for fans to start to say goodbye to the man who was Penn State football since before anyone who is reading this was born. Now, there is no telling what Saturday is going to be. As of right now, Mike McQuery is still on the staff (but for how long?). As of right now, Jay Paterno is still on the staff. There is no telling how long any of these guys will continue to be employed. My guess is that this offseason the Board of Trustees will clean house. Which is going to be a necessary step towards rebuilding and repairing what as of this moment seems so broken.
For my entire sports watching life, the players names changed but the uniforms never did. The number of teams in the Big 10 changed from 10, to 11, to 12, but the coach on the PSU sidelines never did. Until now.
I don’t feel sympathy for Joe Paterno, he had 15 years to do what was right for those kids. I feel sympathy for those unnamed young men, and those who have yet to come forward. I feel sympathy for Silas Redd, Justin Brown, even Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, the guys who are sitting in that locker room right now, the locker room where Jerry Sandusky perpetrated the acts that led to all of this, trying to figure out where to go from here, and how to focus on Saturday, which in the big scheme of things is nothing more than a meaningless football game when compared to the gravity of what has happened. Those kids didn’t ask for any of this.
I will be there Saturday, in front of my TV, I will wear my PSU shirt, and hat, and cheer for Silas Redd, Nate Stupar, Gerald Hodges, DaVon Still, Joe Shuey, and every other kid wearing the blue and white.
Because We (still) Are… Penn State.