I am a Penn State Alumna. For the first time I just read every article in The Penn Stater, the alumni magazine. The latest issue was completely devoted to the blast zone that surrounds the abuse of innocents. Every piece of writing in the issue was done by someone who feels connected to Penn State. Their words made me want to share some of my own.
I bought football season tickets each of my four years at Penn State. I used most of them myself, and if I couldn’t, I sold them at face value. It wasn’t just watching a game. It was an experience. From the moment I walked out of my dorm room and joined the throng heading toward the stadium, I became a member of a community. We goofed around in line and laughed as we hoofed it to the nosebleed seats in the freshman section, knowing that those better seats in the senior section were only a couple of years away, and enjoying them when they were ours. I screamed Penn State at the top of my lungs when the other side yelled We Are. And I liked watching football. A good game could build dramatic tension just as well as any scripted play. Throw in hot chocolate and French fries, and it was a no brainer.
But to me, that was only part of the experience of Penn State; a fun bonus that comes with attending a college with a AAA team. University Park and State College are where I started to become an adult. My time there significantly shaped the person I am today. Most of the family I have chosen, I met in the dorms. A lot of my ideals and political expectations began developing because of classes and conversations that took place in those four years. Outside of my family, nothing has influenced my life more than Penn State. Football games were part of that, but only a part. To me they were a fun way to spend a Saturday feeling I was a part of something. The current team was always a great way to break the ice when I meant another alum for the first time. But never have I turned from fan to fanatic. But even still, I turned a blind eye to issues. Whenever the topic of Big College Sports came up, I thought, not my school. Yes, ridiculous money was spent on football, but it made ridiculous money in return. Yes, the public face of my university was The Coach of the Football Team, but that was OK. He was a good guy. The team had one of the highest GPAs and graduation rates in the country. There were teams of lesser sports, of womens’ sports, that would not exist without football money. I don’t think I ever opened a library book that wasn’t contributed by the Paternos. Heck, I remember a game in which Joe bench one of our star players because he skipped class. We were a football school, and that was fine with me.
Until November 5, 2011.
Power. Power is what allowed Jerry Sandusky (Side note: In our courts you are innocent until proven guilty, and Mr. Sandusky will be given that opportunity. But that is the courts. I have read as much of the grand jury findings as I could stomach. I believe him to be guilty.) to abuse those children. Football gave him that power. Or more accurately, the over-importance given to football made a sport more powerful than any one thing should be. The obsession with a game shared by thousands of people willing to spend millions of dollars gave others the power to cover up, justify, misinterpret and ignore what they knew to be wrong.
Being a football school is no longer fine with me.
Do I want to see the end of Penn State football? No. Do I want the program put into a more realistic perspective? Yes. The reputation of an institution for higher learning should not rest on the shoulder pads of a few athletes. I am sorry I did not see the real danger in that before.
Is this just a Penn State problem? No. This could have happened at any of hundreds of universities across the country. It happens in professional sports even more often.
Money is power, and we allow sports to be big business in which bad behavior and crimes are tolerated, justified by talent. The balance needs to shift if we want to keep predators like Jerry Sandusky at bay.
I do not think Penn State football will ever again reach the glory it once had. I used to lament this as we had mediocre season after season. Now, I’m fine with it. I went to a football school. I want to be an alumna of a school where there is also a football team.