By heather | November 10, 2011
On days like today, I’m thankful I have a blog, a space to write without judgement where I can choose to accept comments or not. I have too many opinionated facebook friends and what I feel today can’t be summed up in a paragraph.
I am a third-generation Penn Stater. My grandfather went there. Both my parents went there. My husband, and my sister-in-law and countless other members of my family and close friends all have Penn State in their hearts. Being a Nittany Lion is a huge part of my identity, snuggling on my grandpa’s lap to watch Penn State football and shouting “Beat Pitt!” and “Notre Dame stinks!” before I even knew what rivalry meant. Those were the old school rivals, long before the Big 10.
I always knew I would go to Penn State. I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted the reputation and unquestionable value of Pennsylvania State University on my resume. I never wanted to have to explain where my school was or get blank looks from people when I told them where I earned my degree. I loved the atmosphere on football Saturdays, and being able to meet new people every single day. Penn State shaped my identity as a child and as an adult.
The world I am raising my kids in is a scary place. One thing that remained constant was Penn State being above reproach. We were above scandal, and the idyllic pictures in campus brochures told a true story of what it was like to be a student there.
There are few crimes worse than the one that started this. My heart breaks for those kids, and for every child who experiences any kind of abuse – physical or otherwise. I wonder if there is a person at Second Mile who suspected but kept quiet for fear of losing the money or accusing a respected member of the community, and who is now sick with regret. Our job as adults is too protect our kids, and we failed.
Whatever you think of what Joe Paterno should or should not have done, the fact remains that he truly cared about the students in the football program, not just for what they could bench or how fast they could run, but for shaping them as adults. When my mom was at Penn State, it wasn’t unusual to see Joe in the library with the team making sure they got an education because he knew that only a tiny percentage would make a living playing football. Today, it is the library – not the athletic buildings – that JoePa built.
We as individuals and as a society DON’T ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING. For fear we are wrong, for fear of making waves or losing friends, we worry about what others will think and we too often give others the benefit of the doubt when they don’t deserve it. What hurts so much for Penn Staters is weighing all the good that Penn State, and Second Mile, and the Paternos, and the football institution have done for so many people against the horrific events that started it all. There is no winner, only victims. And there are lots of people for whom Penn State is such a huge part of their identity that now they don’t know how or what to feel. Except sadness, confusion, and loss.
The impact of this week to the University and the community that surrounds it will be enormous. Already, high school seniors who have committed to play at Penn State are reneging. Alumni and donors who give millions of dollars every year are questioning whether they will do so next year. The University is trying to assert that it is about more than football. While this is true, the fact is that with an organization like this football and academics are as closely intertwined as DNA. Sadly, this week’s game will be a media frenzy, not because the team has worked hard and deserves attention but because of scandal. Under the glare of television cameras, the school is trying desperately to please everyone and it cannot be done.
If there is anything we can take away from this, if there is anything we can do as Nittany Lions to heal ourselves, it is to resolve to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is to committ, however difficult, to getting past the fear of what others will think if we speak up. Get past the idea that it it someone else’s job, or that it’s none of our business. Don’t worry about overstepping invisible boundaries or making a scene. Help those who need it. Have no regrets.
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