THE THINGS TO BE SAID WHEN THERE'S NOTHING LEFT TO SAY
As is the case with much of life, I didn't see the events of this week coming, wasn't even remotely prepared to deal with them, and have no clue exactly how I'm going to feel going forward. All I really do know is that I sat up all night thinking about this, and woke up this morning asking myself, "How the hell are you going to lose sleep over a football team?"
And of course, it's far more than just a football team. While many of you actually attended PSU, I didn't. However, I grew up with and at Penn State. It's kind of hard to avoid when your family has been season ticket holders since the 1960s and watching the games is part of a bonding experience that's indelibly burned into the very fiber of your being. It stopped being "just football" on more or less the day I was born 32 years ago and officially became "part of my life".
And as every event in the history of Penn State football, so are the events of this week a chapter in my life. Naturally, it's one chapter I'd just as soon rip out of the book and bury in the backyard as if it never happened. Sadly, there are no real pages, and there is no backyard.
To paraphrase Robert Frost, we have many, many miles to travel before the scandal that befell us this week is over and we can finally put it to rest. But there are a few things that I wanted - and need - to say, and no matter the outcome.
With Joe Paterno's own admission that he, in hindsight, wishes he would have done more about the Sandusky situation, I'm forced to change my tune in the way I've defended him this week. While we still don't know a significant portion of the details of what occurred between 2002 and this past week, Joe's own admission was that he failed the victims in this case. In that, he also failed the University, a concept that's almost impossible for me to reconcile considering how much he loved and gave to it his entire life. And as angry and upset as I am, there are parts of me that can understand - not condone, not forgive, not excuse, but UNDERSTAND - how it could have happened.
An infinitesimal few of us, thank God, can actually put ourselves in McQueary's or Joe's shoes. Oh sure, we can sit here, protected by the relative anonymity of message board avatars, and project from our own moral high ground. But if we're being honest with ourselves...what WOULD we really have done? If you're McQueary, maybe some of you run and tackle Sandusky and beat him to a pulp; we sure would all like to do that retroactively, no doubt. Maybe some of you run right and call the police. Maybe some of us are so shocked that we don't know HOW to act - having seen a mentor that we've known and respected for more than a decade commit one of the most abhorrent atrocities one could imagine. For myself...I have no clue. I'd like to think I'd be the hero of the situation, running in and separating this vile scumbag from his teeth. But I think there's just as good a chance I'd break down and call someone I trusted before I flat-out lost my mind. I don't excuse what Mike did. But I understand how he could have done it.
If you're Joe...how do you react to hearing THAT kind of news about one of your closest friends and colleagues of DECADES? How many of us could sit here and say that they'd immediately call the police on one of their best friends if they'd heard secondhand that he'd molested a child? Could you snap into action, or would you need some time to process the bomb that's been dropped on you and wrestle with doing the right thing...and even not being able to decide, on the snap of a finger, what the right thing really IS? Again, the answers seem so clear and easy when it's not you, when you weren't there, when you DIDN'T have to make that decision. I don't excuse what Joe did. But I understand how he could have done it.
I wrote a post a couple days ago detailing how it was the wrong move to thrust Joe into the center of this debate, and much of that I stand by. As Joe was, it seems, the ONLY one who fulfilled his legal obligation to the matter, I knew that pushing him to the forefront - making him the face of this tragedy just a he is the face of the University - was only going to cause more trouble than it had already. Sadly, I was right. Now the focus is squarely on Joe, and we're almost to the point of letting the REAL villains - Curley, Schultz, Spanier and, most importantly, Sandusky - get through the brunt of this unscathed. To me, that's the biggest shame in all of this. Paterno COULD and SHOULD have done more, but in the huge machine that is this travesty, he's a smaller cog. And he's essentially being sacrificed so the more nefarious players can continue hiding in the shadows for just a while longer. No one will ever remember most of those other names, but Joe? Sixty years of high character and impeccable graduation rates and accountability...to many, all gone. Now HE'S the target. And that is shameful.
And yet...you wonder how, for years, Paterno (again, we're assuming some information here, though it seems all too likely) could allow this monster to stay, for all intents and purposes, a part of the program. You wonder how any of them could. That's something I can't disengage from, and for whatever mistakes Joe has made in his life, I think it'd be safe to say this was the biggest. However, I'm also forced to recognize that he was NOT the only one, and the onus doesn't lie solely on him. Maybe not even mostly on him. And yet...he didn't do enough.
Where does this leave me now? I don't know. There's still too much to play out, too much to absorb, too much to consider. That said, I do know one thing:
This University is not any of these men. This University is the students, the athletes, the alumni, and the fans. And as sad and angry as I am at some of those who represented us, I will never turn my back on Penn State.
I am going to continue to be proud. I am going to continue to be proud of an idea, a place and a team, and no pathetic little cadre of corrupt deviants are going to change that.
I will continue to support PSU, win or lose against Nebraska this weekend. I will continue to support PSU for their two games following, and the potential Big Ten Championship, and the bowl game. I will continue to support them if they lose every single contest. Because that's not only what the players and the coaches and the program deserves - it's what I deserve as well.
I will continue to support PSU no matter who they hire as the new Head Coach. I will continue to support PSU if they clean house. I will continue to support PSU in a resurgence or a rebuilding. I will continue to support it no matter how good or bad the next ten, twenty, thirty years are.
Because The Pennsylvania State University stands for something to me. It is not this scandal. It is not this sadness. It is not Sandusky, or Curley, or Schultz or Spanier. It is not Joe Paterno.
Penn State is us. It is a wonderful, prideful, goodhearted community that can never and will never be broken. It is our friends and our family. It is our tradition.
The physical embodiment of that will not only be around televisions and in the stands on Saturday, but on the field.
I will be rooting for them then. I will be rooting for them always.