The Penn State Situation from An Alum’s Perspective

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Unrelated Shit

This one is difficult to write, but I felt compelled to do so.

I teach twentieth-century American history at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA.  At the beginning of each semester, I begin with the Western European perspective…

In the late nineteenth century, England, France, and Germany led the world in wealth, technology, and culture.  Western Europeans thought of themselves as the world’s most advanced and civilized people.  Reason, philosophy, commerce, and art had triumphed, the Enlightenment Project fulfilled.  The need for war seemed to vanish as civilized Europeans could work things out in a logical, non-violent manner.

Then World War I happened.  For four years, Western Europe kicked the shit out of each other on an unprecedented scale.  Nine million people–an entire generation–vanished, for no apparent reason.  (We can see now why that happened, with the benefit of hindsight.)  Everything Europeans believed, everything they thought was stable and safe and right…it was all bullshit, all shattered overnight.  That’s how this Penn State scandal appears to me.

I have never been a Penn State rah-rah guy, but I used to believe Joe Paterno represented what was right with college sports.  Penn State was always better than the scumbag programs, better than the sleazy criminal actions engulfing Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc.  We were always better.  Paterno cared about education.  He cared that his kids graduated.  He would sacrifice some success on the field if it meant he could graduate more of his players.

In January of 1987, Penn State played Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship.  The Lions had no business being on the same field as their counterparts as that Miami team was the best of their many great squads.  The Hurricanes were so good that their three receivers became top notch pros…and they could only start two of them at a time!

But Miami was easy to hate…all dressed in fatigues coming off the plane, all gangsta, trash talking their opponents.  In contrast, Penn State wore suitcoats and ties and conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism.  Penn State won the game, and the championship, 14-10, with a victory that ranks among the all-time great upsets in college sports.  To me, the Lions’ victory represented good triumphing over evil, of right defeated sleaze.

Then the sex scandal happened.  It’s so beyond sickening that none of us can believe it.  It is so much worse than anything Miami, Oklahoma, or any of the other schools have done throughout the years.  And Paterno had to go.  Everything he’s done to this point, all the teaching, giving millions to the library, helping kids out, all of that has been overshadowed by the coddling he and his staff did to the monster that is Jerry Sandusky.  Penn State feels like Western Europe in 1918. 

I hope the school gets its shit together.  If anything good can come of this, given the enormity of the crimes involved, maybe, just maybe, big schools will begin to reassess what they’re about.  I love football, but maybe it’s time we realized that education, and the well-being of children comes way before a sport or an institution.  I’m sick inside.  I don’t know what else to say.


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