Penn State Thoughts

This whole Penn State mess has had me venting spasmodically all day on Twitter, Facebook, at coworkers, occasionally at my computer screen. I figured it was about time I consolidated my rantings in a single space.  I’m afraid no one post will capture everything about an affair as sordid and vomit-inducing as this one, but for now, a few thoughts.

First, if you’re still not convinced that JoePa’s deeds really warranted his dismissal by this point, I don’t have much for you beyond suggesting you a) open your eyes and then b) read here, here, and here. Or if you’re really up for a jolt, have a gander at the grand jury report. You know, the one that details how one of Saint Joe’s assistants told him that he’d seen his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room shower? And how JoePa dutifully passed along the info to the athletic director and then did…absolutely nothing. And continued to do absolutely nothing for the next nine years as Sandusky kept (allegedly) raping kids right under JoePa’s nose, including in his locker room.

None of that seems to have registered with the thousands of rioting Penn State students who poured out into the State College streets last night to declare their disgust with…well, I’m not quite sure. One student tried to explain to a New York Times reporter: “The board started this by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.” Another: “Of course we’re going to riot.  What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”

Our coach. The phrase popped up again and again in the students’ explications of the appalling spectacle. Something had been taken from them, they were quite sure. But what exactly? It wasn’t just a coach, at least not in any normal sense of the word. It was a father. JoePa was an object of unconditional support and affection. By the looks of it, he might’ve killed someone, and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

But for those looking for evidence of the moral rot at the heart of this institution (and no doubt many others), it had already been laid  bare a day earlier, when dozens, if not hundreds, of devotees made the pilgrimage to Saint Joe’s house to show their support. “We are…Penn State!” they chanted and loudly cheered their demigod’s appearance outside.

That moment was so jarring–even more so than the van tipping and vandalism of the next night. Three days earlier, it had been alleged that at least eight young boys had been raped by a member of the Penn State community. And the response was…a pep rally. In the face of something horrid–something crying out for a response slightly more human than a mindless football chant–the football chant prevailed. Whether it was a conscious cry of defiance or merely a subconscious defense mechanism against a painful reality, I don’t know. Either way, it was as if Americans had responded to word of Abu Ghraib by rushing into the streets chanting, “USA! USA!”

Now is no time for pride. There is nothing to be proud of in any of this. One day, once the truth has been established and reckoned with, Penn Staters might once again proclaim “We are Penn State!” But that day is a long way off.

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