By Frankie O
We Are! Penn State! It has been the defiant cheer associated with the university since its introduction during football games in the mid-seventies at Beaver Stadium. Its roots come from the days leading up to the 1948 Cotton Bowl. During the 1947 season, Penn State had 2 African-American players Wally Triplett and Dennie Hoggard - on its roster, much to the consternation of their New Years Day opponent, Southern Methodist University. When word came that SMU wanted to discuss whether it was appropriate for the two universities to play, the legendary response from offensive guard and Captain, Steve Suhey, was succinct in its feeling of the Penn State team and university: We are Penn State. There will be no meetings. For their defiance, the team was denied hotel rooms in the Dallas area and was forced to seek lodging at the Naval Air Station 14 miles outside the city. Triplett went on to score the game-tying touchdown in the 13-13 contest.
We Are Penn State has stood for many things since then, but at its core, has always been the will to be the best you can be, while doing it the right way: Compete with honor.
Joe Paterno came to Penn State in 1950 and turned that phrase into the mantra of his life. Theres a select pantheon of college coaches who have become synonymous with the universities for which they worked. Paterno took this to levels that may never be seen again. He reveled not only athletics, but in the entire college experience. This included the academics as much, or if not more, than anything else. For a college football coach, at a major university, this vision of how his players should interact with the rest of the school was revolutionary. It led to his Grand Experiment which began in the turbulent sixties, in which his players, while competing at the highest level on the field, would also compete at that level in the classroom. He put the student back in the term student-athlete.
Joe was never shy about sharing this with anyone. As long as I can remember reading about him, or listening to him speak, he talked about academics as much as anything else. For those of us who were fans this message resonated. Do it the right way. Be the best you can be through competition and above all, education.
In a sports world gone mad, Joe was refreshing. He was old-school. He was no-nonsense. He was revered.
Of course, like any of us, he got older. The whispers started. I have had too many conversations to count, before this year, about whether he stayed too long, or if it was time for him to go. The game had passed him by they argued. It was time for him to let go.
I never got this and argued against it every time. My reasoning was that 1- He built the program from almost nothing into one that put 106,000 in the stands for every home game. And 2- He did it the right way!
There is always the outcry about college sports being professional. Well here was one program, that had achieved a lot and no one could say they did it by crossing the line.
In a world that can get out of control, it was one of the constants of my life, something I could count on. Joe and Penn State were something I could be proud of.
Thats a feeling Im having a constant wrestling match with right now. The Sandusky scandal has left me full of shock and outrage. It has also left me with a tremendous void. Something that I once cherished is gone. Then I think of the victims and my even mentioning my feeling makes me feel an extreme amount of guilt. The victims, and what was done, or what wasnt done for them, is the point now.
Taking advantage of a child is as low as it gets. Taking advantage of kids who need help the most is as despicable an act that I can think of. I cannot get past these facts.
Sometimes in life, things happen and there is nothing we can do about it, all we can affect is our reaction to it. And then, there are the times when our actions have a direct impact on what happens around us. These are the things that determine who we are and how we are judged.
We all are going through a constant evaluation process, either from within, or from everyone around us. Day in and day out we prove who we are. Mistakes will be made, we are human, but hopefully we all are afforded time and opportunity to correct what is wrong. Through time, the truth should be known to all.
Then, there is the final judgment. None of us can avoid it. I would hope, for any of us, it represents who we are, and what wed hoped we would be.
I had a weird lack of emotion when Joe Paterno died on Sunday. I guess thats because of the facts that Ive learned in the last 2 months. In a way, Ive been dealing with Joe being gone since I read the Sandusky grand jury report, and then after that, the interview with 12 members of the Penn State board of trustees in the New York Times and his final interview last week in the Washington Post.
My idea of who Joe Paterno was died 2 months ago.
The discussion we get into at the bar is: Legal vs. Moral.
It is argued that he fulfilled his legal obligation in reporting what graduate assistant Mike McQueary had told him he witnessed to his superiors. But it defies any sense in logic in the way he led his life that Paterno did not do more. He pushed everyone around him to do more every day of his adult life. Why would he pick this time to pass the buck?
The expectation is that we all are here to make this a better place, first by being the best we can be, then by helping others.
During his memorial on Thursday, person after person told glowing tales about the effect that Joe had on them and how his love and guidance made them better.
I listened and believed. This was the man that was idolized by guys my age for all of our lives. The kids we had watched play were now men, and better men because of Joe. They told us so.
Which is why I cant escape the questions: Why wasnt more done almost 10 full years ago? How could anyone hear about the actions of a monster and do nothing? How was this person allowed to have keys to the building where young men worked to honor themselves and the university? No one ever saw him? Schultz? Curley? McQueary? Joe?? McQueary said he had 3 conversations about the incident and his father was there for 2 of them. What was it like for him and his father knowing nothing had been done? Had either of them ever heard of the police? How does anyone, knowing what had happened, sleep at night?
As we all live, life gets more complicated. Experience teaches us that things tend to sort themselves out. Eventually, we could even have some of the answers to question what really happened at Penn State and how supposedly intelligent, moral people could fail so miserably. In time, we will gain more information. But I suspect some of us already know, even if we dont want to admit it.
There is going to be even more emotion. For the next chapter that is written about Joe and Penn State will be about the victims. There wont be lip-service about how we should think about them, once they face their tormentor in a court of law, we all are going to learn about them and the sickening events that have occurred here.
Joe is said to have taught us all about living with honor. I think that starts with getting answers and making sure those in the wrong meet with proper justice. He is gone now and how we respond will tell if his dream of what Penn State can be has turned into a reality. Do those who love the university and what it is supposed to stand for have the courage to see this through and find the truth no matter what the cost?
Can we do what needs to be done to tell the victims of this unspeakable tragedy that the world will finally do what it can to ease their suffering?
I pray that is the case. As much as Im afraid of what Im about to learn from the investigations and trials is going to make this worse, Im hoping that those who want to protect Joes legacy know that they can do so now by fighting with all their love and energy to help the victims.
What Joe taught us is that even if we try to live a virtuous life, were still human. We are all flawed. But in spite of imperfection, we can still have a positive impact. The victims of Sandusky have yet to see this from anyone at Penn State, but there is still time.
I want my Penn State back. I cant change what has happened, none of us can, but we all can have an effect on what happens from now on and it starts with a first step. We ALL must be unified. We need to let everyone know no stone will be unturned to get to the bottom and try to make it right.
There was a time 65 years ago, when a response to something grossly unjust exposed what was within all of us, expressed in the words WE ARE PENN STATE. Now is the time to prove that we are truly worthy of shouting those words.