Worst of the Year

Sorry for the somber news. I know the Penn State issue is no longer current, but Jerry Sandusky is easily the biggest asshole of 2011. In my opinion, worthy runners-up would be Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and anyone else at the university who was aware of Sandusky’s crimes. Like all of you, I am disgusted that abominable people exist and that innocent victims were gravely affected. But in all fairness, I do know plenty of Penn State fans and alumni who were deeply saddened and heartbroken when the corruption of their beloved Alma Mater was unveiled.

I started writing the post below when the news broke, but I decided not to finish writing it or to publish it until now. I think the subject was too sensitive and shocking at the time; we were inundated by news story after news story, victim after victim coming forward and all these clashing opinions about what is right, what is moral and what is just. But now that the media storm has calmed and I have a clearer perspective on the entire incident, I felt obligated to share the Worst of 2011, possibly the worst of the decade. And hopefully, we’ll never have to see anything like this ever again.

The upsetting Penn State situation has undoubtedly left many speechless and distraught – me included. I have no affiliation or emotional connections to that institution, but I have experienced a glimmer of PSU’s culture through the handful of Nittany Lion alumni I’ve befriended and worked with over the years.

I’ve met a fair amount of your prototypical Penn State fans –  the walking ambassadors of Penn State who deeply cherish every aspect of University Park and its community. These are the individuals who camp out in inclement weather for tickets to an illustrious game at Beaver Stadium (also held in inclement weather). These are the folks – grown adults – who shed physical tears when the Iowa Hawkeyes ended their undefeated season in 2008. I’ve oftentimes considered the passionate fanaticism these people possessed brutally obnoxious, ludicrous even. However, I will admit to finding it remarkably impressive. There was just a wholesome, palpable purity ingrained in this undying devotion to Penn State and though I will probably never fully understand the depth of that loyalty, I did respect and see the value of Penn State’s communal culture. Everything about Penn State exudes brotherhood. The university’s motto boasting “We are Penn State,” demonstrates a profound collectiveness and the football team’s nameless jerseys demonstrate teamwork and solidarity.

With that in mind, I can’t imagine the devastation any supporter of Penn State must have felt regarding the scandal involving Penn State’s coaching staff. You do not need to be a collegiate football fan to associate Joe Paterno with Penn State University; he is usually the first cognitive association that comes to mind when anyone mentions the institution. You also do not need to be a collegiate football fan to know about the influence of this man and his tenure at the university. Joe Paterno is an undeniable part of the Penn State brand, arguably the face of it. Any lover of Penn State also loved Paterno with the same level of adoration.

I don’t feel an ounce of pity or remorse for anything that has happened to the former coaching staff. I think they’re all evil pieces of shit. A lot of Paterno’s defendants ask, “Why are we nailing Joe Pa against the wall when Sandusky was the individual who committed such heinous crimes?” True, Sandusky’s actions are irrefutably terrible and Joe Paterno did nothing wrong by the legal system. But morally, an individual who has lived over 80 years with 5 kids and 17 grandchildren should know better. Doesn’t knowledge of appalling activity and inactivity to prevent it enable it to continue? Think about it this way – a lot of pedophiles don’t understand why it’s wrong to have sex with children. A lot of their minds are demented and twisted to the point where they fail to comprehend how their actions hurt people and ruin lives. I’m not defending Sandusky; however, I am arguing that Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary’s failure to stop him, allowed him to continue victimizing children. Also, Paterno wants his football players to be above reproach, upstanding students and honorable young men. How does he fail to realize that those10 and 12-year-olds being raped could potentially be future Nittany Lions? I personally think Paterno is just as awful as Sandusky; maybe even worse.

Penn State’s reputation will probably be in shambles for a while; it will be hard to associate the Lions with integrity and pride because I don’t think scandals like this are possible to recover from. New personnel need to be hired and the slate needs to be wiped completely clean. Some even speculate the university might change its name.

I don’t know if I can ever hear the term “Penn State football” and not think of Joe Paterno, and therefore Jerry Sandusky and the graphic Grand Jury Report I read. However, over time, I could probably disassociate the Penn State coaching staff from the university as a whole.

At the beginning of this post, I detailed the overwhelming loyalty of Penn State alum – predominantly diehard football fans who bled blue and white during their college careers. But I’ve also met a fair amount of extremely intelligent individuals who attended PSU because of the school’s excellent academia. Penn State’s considered one of 10 or 12 “Public Ivy Leagues” like Wisconsin, Texas, Miami, Michigan and Berkeley – state schools, party schools, but extremely good schools. I know a few alum who could care less about Nittany Lion football including one of my tenured professors at the University of Texas and the saluditorian of my high school class. My Fulbright-touting older sister considered attending grad school at PSU before choosing Harvard instead. These latter examples do prove that Penn State is bigger than football and definitely bigger than Joe Paterno. They also provide a semblance of hope that the storied university is not completely in ruins as it has a number of outstanding qualities outside of collegiate athletics.

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