Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PENN STATE: OBLIVION


Since the news of the Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal broke and the response of Penn State’s leaders, from President Graham Spanier to Head Coach Joe Paterno, has become more and more egregiously inadequate, the word ‘vacuum’ has been used to describe the leadership, atmosphere, and climate in Happy Valley.



While it’s true that State College and the University Park campus sit three hours from the nearest major media market, literally surrounded by mountainous farmland, ‘vacuum’ isn’t the correct word.

Oblivion. That is what describes this entire scenario, from Sandusky’s flouting of his power to torture innocent children to the students chanting “We Want Joe!” outside Paterno’s home on Tuesday night. Complete and utter oblivion to the outside world – the real world.

And that oblivion has always been accepted there. Take it from someone who lived there for four years.
During my freshman year, I wanted to transfer back to Pittsburgh. I wanted to get away from an atmosphere that seemed exclusionary and all too focused on the jockocracy. It felt like an Alpha male high school on steroids. Then I met some people like me. I found my place, like many confused freshmen do, and grew friendships with people I still keep in touch with to this day. Had I stayed in Pittsburgh, I never would have met Pat Fung, the kid from Jersey who knew people in the World Trade Center when it fell. I never would have met Carla Scardino, the 110% Italian girl from South Philly who introduced our group of friends to “woota’ (water), WaWa, and took us to Pat’s for cheesesteaks.

I never would have met all of the locals I became friends with, either. ‘Fitzy,’ the kid who tried his damnedst to take a swing at college but was meant more for fixing cars. Ralph, the kid who dominated D-2 ACHA club hockey and singlehandedly carried our intramural and adult league teams. And so many others who grew up in State College and the surrounding area who understood that Penn State was not football. They understood that Penn State was not Beaver Stadium on a Saturday. They understood that Penn State was not Joe Paterno.

Yet there was a quiet acceptance of it all, as if growing up in Centre County, you knew that the outside world, and even those in ultimate power and control of the world of Penn State, were going to make it about football, and Paterno, and all of the high and mighty moral righteousness. You had to accept that if you were going to be a local, and survive the increasing encroachment of ‘Gown’ on your ‘Town.’

To understand all of that, you have to be a local, or accepted as one. I went through that as I hosted the #1 nighttime radio show on two different radio stations in State College and didn’t leave town except for holidays between the September of my sophomore year in 1999 and my graduation in August of 2002. I grew to love State College and the surrounding community more then Penn State University, the massive and overbearing institution and it’s already ineffective blowhard of a president, Graham Spanier. I came to resent Paterno’s growing influence as he held the program hostage while waiting for his son, Jay, to somehow prove himself able to take over the reigns. I came to hate the classes I had to take that taught me nothing about actually going out and being a broadcaster and rather shoved theory and reading down my throat.

I will still value my time at Penn State though – and more importantly, in State College – and to think of what happened to God knows how many children at the hands of Sandusky literally chokes me up with sadness. To think of Mike McQueary walking in on Sandusky raping a child and walking out of the building without saving that child fills me with rage. To think of Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Graham Spanier, finding out about the incident and not calling the police fills me with embarrassment. To think of what this means for the reputation of the university – and by association, a town, a region, and it’s people that have built their lives around Penn State – disgusts me. The people of Central Pennsylvania have long allowed themselves to be inextricably linked with Penn State, and for good reason: Without Penn State, there is no State College. Never again though, will the people of that area allow their identities to fall back on football, a coach, and the university. Never again will the alumni, I imagine, allow themselves to be deluded to believe that degree on their wall means sitting in a tent in Paternoville.

It is time for Penn Staters, current and alumni, residents of State College and Centre County, and anyone who feels a connection to either, to refocus on what each should be about. We can never allow ourselves to let people like Spanier, Curley, and Paterno to lead us ever again. People who were so singularly focused on one thing, in this case football and the money that comes with it, that they overlooked basic human decency.

In less than 100 days, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world will hold THON, Penn State’s annual dance marathon to raise money for cancer research and The Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Children’s Hospital. Over the last 35 years – coincidentally the same 35 years that Sandusky has been associated with the university - $78 million have been raised to benefit the fight against pediatric cancer. Perhaps that is where Penn State’s new legacy should be planted.


The page must be turned. Joe Paterno must be fired. Now. Not allowed to resign effective at the end of the season. The same goes for Mike McQueary and Graham Spanier, and Tim Curley, who is on administrative leave and has yet to be stripped of his ability to fight perjury charges with university, and subsequently taxpayer money.

What is written on the next page though is up to those willing to fill that ‘vacuum,’ pick up the pen, and end the oblivion that has been the pass-the-buck, football first culture of the “leadership” at Penn State.

We owe it to those that call themselves Penn Staters, to those from State College, and most of all, never forget that we owe it to the victims, to learn from what will go down as the most horrific case of negligence in the history of organized athletics and higher education.

We owe it to them to end the oblivion.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything that you are saying and I hope I can proud once again, when I say that both of my children went too Penn State. I will from this day forward pray for the victims of this tragedy and that all involved will get the punishment that they deserve!

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