When Heroes Fall...
I feel I have to start this post by saying that I am distraught and the victims of the Penn State scandal are at the forefront of my mind at every moment. I also feel if you read my previous post you know where my feelings lie on this issue and that this post, while not about the victims per se does not diminish what I feel. Also, having read that post you know my opinion on the fates of those involved. That being said, let me move on with this post.
I am having feelings that I have never felt before. That’s not to say I haven’t felt betrayal. Because I have. Deep betrayal that to this day I don’t know if I’ll get over. But this feeling? This feeling is so different.
My brother went to Penn State before me. Class of 95. I was 14 when he headed off to Happy Valley. From that moment I was all in on Penn State.
When it came my turn to go to college I applied to one college. One. By that time I was in love. Head over heels for the Nittany Lions and everything it stood for. By the time I was 18 I was also in love with football and I could think of no better and more exciting place to be than Penn State. I spent my first two years at a branch campus. Every single day of which sucked, but I knew I was getting to main campus soon. I was there my Junior and Senior year. 1998 – 2000 right in the midst of when the atrocities were being perpetrated.
I bought my season tickets both years and proudly sat in the student section. Boldly sang the alternate words to the alma mater… I still don’t know the actual words… and belted out Fight On State at the top of my lungs. And in the midst of it all, Joe Paterno. Actually catching a glimpse of him on the sideline or running out at the beginning of a game was thrilling. He was like a celebrity in my mind. And in the minds of many.
Being at Penn State and experiencing the culture there was life changing. And Saturdays were football whether on the TV for the away games or in the stadium at home the whole place breathed Penn State football. The atmosphere for a home game was electric.
On the other days – Sunday through Friday it was business as usual, but even then, right or wrong, it was a given that you were in JoePa’s town. He was revered. Not by everyone, no. There are always people that even in that kind of atmosphere still aren’t football people. And that’s ok. They’re the ones making all the money now, so joke’s on the rest of us, I guess.
Joe Paterno was an institution in and of himself. He was the captain of the ship. The jewel in the crown that was the pride of the school. The football team. And like I said, right or wrong, it’s how it always was. Football was our religion and Paterno was our deity. Plus there was always the knowledge that he was doing it right. His players got college degrees. If they were ineligible for grades… they didn’t play. They didn’t get special grade adjustments at the urging of the coach. Penn State doesn’t have the players names on the jerseys because JoePa was adamant they work as a team and not go for individual accolades. I think he figured there’d be enough of that for the ones who made it to the pros. And man, did he ever send them. Over 350.
I’m saying all this for a reason. The majority of us – the ones that lived and breathed Penn State, we are devastated. Heartbroken. First and foremost for the victims. Always for the victims. But we are lost. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve heard call after call come in to the two sports stations we have here in Philadelphia. Many of them didn’t even have words. They called in to talk and found they couldn’t. Articulating their feelings just couldn’t be done.
Let me try. In the most simple terms. We had something and someone we held in such high regard. Someone esteemed as the example of rightness. Someone we believed in and had faith in. Utmost faith in him based on his actions and courage of convictions. For YEARS. A lifetime for some. Like the one gentleman I heard call today that has been raised on Penn State and was a fan of the team and Joe Paterno since he was five. The fact that he was involved in these atrocities. Or more correctly, completely disinvolved. That he stood there and turned a blind eye to what was allegedly going on… that he was capable of enabling a child rapist… it has shaken us to our core. Some have described it as a death in the family. And that’s not far from how it feels. It’s a death to our faith. Our ideals. To everything we always believed.
I know to many this just sounds dumb. For people to have just a person held in such high regard. I mean he’s just a man. Fallible. Clearly. But he’d never given us a reason not to.
So we are crushed and devastated about the victims. They are all that matters in this whole mess. It’s disgusting and heartbreaking and unthinkable what they’ve all had to go through. It’s a waking nightmare. And I just keep thinking about that boy who probably kept praying someone would come by. And when someone did? They walked away. I can’t get it out of my mind.
But when it comes to the alumni and the fans and the students (by students I do not mean the rioters… but please bear in mind they comprise less than 5% of the student body on that campus). Please. Let us be sad. Let us grieve for the man we thought we knew and let us mourn the end of an era and the destruction of a legacy. We know he did it to himself. We know he could have prevented it and we know he was wrong. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It also doesn’t mean we don’t care about what really matters here.
Our pain is nothing… NOTHING… compared to that of the victims and their families. Believe me when I say that we don’t think it is. They’ve been through the unspeakable and their pain seems like it would be insurmountable. Ours will heal… but it’s still real. And still valid. Please don’t judge us for it or level criticism at us. We’re reeling. Just give us some time. There’s no words to describe how it feels to see a hero fall.
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