An open letter to the Paterno family from a PSU alum

I wrote about the Sandusky scandal after the story first broke, and I haven’t stopped being upset about it. Today’s announcement that Penn State would face fines, post-season suspension, loss of scholarships, and a 5-year probation under the strict watch of NCAA observers should have come as a surprise only to those who expected the “death penalty” (shutting down the football program entirely).

So, what came as a (sad) surprise to me was hearing that the late Joe Paterno’s family referred to the NCAA ruling as “panicked”. Worse still, they claim that the punishments “defame the legacy [of Paterno].” In all fairness to their grief over the loss of their family patriarch: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE F*%$ING KIDDING ME.

Who defamed the legacy of Paterno? Joe Paterno.

Here’s why: there’s ample evidence that Paterno knew Sandusky was preying on little boys, and yet he didn’t call the police. Joe Paterno was scared of calling the cops? This was his one failing, as so many have suggested? It’s a pretty big one.

I’m not one to claim that all of this falls on Joe Paterno’s lap. The ultimate failing lands squarely on Sandusky, who will hopefully rot in jail before he rots in hell. There are few things more deplorable than raping children…although I’d be hard-pressed to say what those things might be. Genocide, maybe?

Others at Penn State should also pay for what they’ve done, well beyond what the University is doing in dishing out settlements quickly and quietly (as they began doing the day after Sandusky was found guilty). These individuals (and groups) include EVERYBODY associated with the football program from the Paterno era – coaches, trainers & staff – as well as everybody in Old Main (the administration building) who knew and didn’t lift a damn finger to stop it. Campus police needs to be purged of anyone who was there at that time and who knew, and the Board of Trustees’ surviving members from the Paterno/Spanier eras should be ritually purged from the campus, never to return. Their incredible failure of governance – the one real responsibility they had – was nigh unto criminal.

So then we get down to the actual punishment. Is it panicked? No. Is it severe? Yes. Is it punishing innocent students? Absolutely. But what the NCAA is trying to do is make a point: Penn State football can only be allowed to exist if it can be part of the school, not the point of the school. Building up any mortal to be a god is colossal foolishness, and the Paterno statue was nothing but the second coming of the golden calf. Let it sit in a warehouse, much like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, hopefully never to see the light of day again.

Joe Paterno did some great things, and I was damn proud to root for Penn State football during and after my time on campus. But Paterno failed critically as a leader, and while he tried to lift up young men to his own gain, he failed young boys and, ultimately, the entire Penn State community as well. He shouldn’t bear that burden alone, and hopefully Spanier and others will face some form of criminal or civil proceedings so they receive punishment well in excess of banishment from the campus they so miserably let down. Current PSU President Rodney Erickson now has a supreme challenge – not just to rebuild a football program but to rebuild a school and a nation of alumni that so desperately needs to heal. And putting one man’s “legacy” above the school he was supposed to serve is just self-serving bullshit.

Let me be clear: we got off light. There is NO PUNISHMENT SEVERE ENOUGH for the rape of children. None. Nothing takes that back. Nothing erases that, and nothing makes it all better. Even revoking someone’s universal bus pass isn’t enough to make up for the loss of innocence, the pain, the internal agony of it all. WE GOT OFF LIGHT. So bitching and moaning about how it’s too much and the football program will take a decade to recover…it falls on deaf ears when spoken anywhere near me. It will take some of these victims their entire lives to recover, if that, and football doesn’t hold a candle to the importance of a human life.

I will continue to root for Penn State, both on and off the field. The challenge to all of the Penn State community – current students, faculty, staff, and alumni – is to rebuild our school into a place where we would never again let that happen.

Where we will never again let a wolf prey on lambs.

Where we will never again raise anyone to heights where mortals cannot tread.

Where we will accept responsibility for our failings and take our medicine like grown ups.

Where we can ALL be proud to bleed blue and white.

Where we can all answer with no shame in our hearts: WE ARE…PENN STATE.

{divergence} We Are…PENN STATE

For those who follow my personal Twitter and Facebook, this post is intended to provide you with some measure of explanation as to where I stand on the whole Penn State scandal. As an alumna of Penn State – especially one who was there during part of Sandusky’s tenure – I think I have to speak out.

I was a Penn State undergraduate student during the early 90’s. I was so proud to go there. It was always expected that I would go to college, and when I chose Penn State, it seemed I’d given my father the greatest gift a teenage girl can give: an incredible, storied football team. I started out as a Meteorology major, thinking I would be a tornado chaser, but I ended up switching to Political Science only one year in when it became clear that I didn’t have sufficient aptitude for Chemistry or Physics.

I learned a lot while I was at Penn State. I learned how to crank out a 30pg paper in a weekend (hint: it involves coffee, no-doz, and a metric ton of hours searching the library weeks before to prep). I learned how to make friends in a vast sea of people, where the undergraduates numbered in the tens of thousands and you could go days without seeing a familiar face. I learned how to balance work, school, and seemingly endless partying. I learned that even north of the Mason-Dixon line, in the early 1990’s, racism was still alive and well. Suffice to say: I learned a lot.

I don’t have any regrets about my time at Penn State, and though I didn’t take a lot of friends away with me (and have since rekindled a few friendships via Facebook), I am proud to be a Nittany Lion. I’m proud to “bleed blue and white”.

And then there’s the scandal related to Jerry Sandusky.

I was shocked. Horrified. Disgusted. Angry. Stupefied.

How could it be that while I was giving speeches at Take Back the Night, speaking out against rape by relating my own story of nearly being raped at a fraternity house just off campus, a monster was preying on little boys hundreds of feet away on another part of the campus? I can’t reconcile that.

Living in Massachusetts, it’s impossible to ignore the emotional stench from the Catholic Church scandal. What used to be a bad joke about priests and altar boys suddenly came to light as a horrifying reality. We learned over a period of years that this was a systemic failure – that monsters were grown and protected, sheltered and nurtured, and boys were led to emotional slaughter under the guise of organized religion. Less than 10 years later, people are now comparing Penn State to the Catholic Church. They’re not remotely comparable – Penn State seems to have experienced a systemic failure in support of one person’s terrible illness and actions, while the Catholic Church experienced a systemic failure in support of many people’s terrible illness and actions. I liken it to cancer: Penn State needs to do surgical strikes to excise specific tumors, while the Catholic Church let it go so long and so deep and so wide that it was a metastisized nightmare.

Waking to the news that Joe Paterno, our dear JoePa, was fired was unsurprising. I was willing to let him serve out the rest of the season as long as he was sure to go, but holy crap did he need to go. Anyone who knew that Sandusky raped boys and failed to report it to the police needed to go. I was cheering that Graham Spanier, the school President and – theoretically where the buck should have stopped, was also fired. He knew and he never called the police either. SHAME on both of them. SHAME on the then-graduate assistant (now assistant coach) who saw this atrocity and didn’t jump in to save the boy. Even a shout –  “HEY – WTF ARE YOU DOING?!” – could have possibly saved more children from being abused. It could have stopped sooner. Fewer people could have been hurt.

I won’t weep for Paterno, Spanier, Curley, Schultz or anyone else who loses their job in this mess. They may have done us good service before, but they hurt the institution through moral failings that let so many boys be abused by a monster. Even one is too many. (And, again, unlike the Catholic Church, the people who were involved in covering up are being fired – the Catholic Church just shuffled and moved some to Vatican City. That’s just astonishingly awful behavior.)

I don’t feel that Penn State is a loss. I have been and will continue to be an advocate for Penn State. I learned a lot there, and I know that it offers a lot as an academic institution. Things will have to change in the football program, and things will have to change about campus culture, and that’s okay. Football as God is no better than the Pope is Infallible, in my opinion: nothing made of man is perfect.

I will continue to recommend Penn State as a place to go for higher education. I urge people to consider it as a valuable and wonderful academic institution. Letting the rest of the University suffer for the failings of a small few would be a terrible shame. Penn State and its alumni need to heal. Those boys – some of whom are now men – definitely need to heal. And all of those in that healing need support, especially the victims.

For those who helped conceal, cover up and otherwise obscure the truth: they’ll find justice, one way or the other. Through guilt, incarceration, public humiliation…whatever. I won’t burn Paterno in effigy. That he failed one of the greatest moral tests is depressing, but it is what it is. We can’t turn back time, we can only move forward.

I hope Penn State can move forward from here – heal and move on. I will move on with it from a distance, continuing to support the healing and hoping that we never EVER let this happen again.

Since 1990 I have been…and always will be…PENN STATE.