Maybe We Aren't Penn State

11/09/2011 06:29 pm ET | Updated Jan 09, 2012

I didn't go to Penn State.

I graduated from a school in a city hundreds of miles away, without a football team. But my best friend went there, and I was close enough to take advantage of that every time I needed my "big school fix." Grilled stickies. Canyon Pizza (don't knock the ranch until you've tried it, believe me). The Creamery. Stupid jokes about how everything is named "Beaver." And of course, JoePa. Thanks to my friend, I own more pieces of Penn State gear than I do for my own alma mater. Right after college, (relatively) flush with cash from my first (and only) Christmas bonus, we took a road trip for the ages to Tampa to spend New Year's watching the Nittany Lions defeat Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.

I feel like an honorary student.

Remember the 1987 Fiesta Bowl? Don't get me wrong, that Miami team was insane -- I have a soft spot for those 'Canes, because they remind me of the swaggering glory days of my beloved Cowboys. But Penn State always prided itself on being the good guys. The hard-working, salt of the earth good guys, led by the little man in the windbreaker and large glasses. It seemed to me to be a Norman Rockwell version of the football-crazed-giant-school experience, and I was happy to be a small, interloping part of it.

I won't rehash the specifics of the scandal here, except to say that I read the grand jury report, and it is horrific. If the allegations against Jerry Sandusky are true (and to be honest, I haven't seen or heard anything even remotely plausible enough to make me think they aren't), Penn State is facing a crisis the likes of which should shake State College to its core.

Which makes the news that students are rallying in support of head coach Joe Paterno that much worse. By all accounts, he knew that his friend (and one time heir apparent) had done something untoward with the young boys in his care (there are differing stories of what the graduate assistant Mike McQueary actually told Paterno). According to law enforcement, Paterno complied with the letter of the law in immediately alerting Athletic Director Tom Curley.

It doesn't matter. From James Calhoun, the janitor that saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a 12 year old in 2000, to graduate assistant Mike McQueary in 2002, to Paterno, Curley and university president Graham Spanier, everyone who knew is at fault. I can almost understand the reluctance of Calhoun and McQueary to go to the authorities, because the lower you are on the totem pole, the harder it is to be a whistleblower, and the greater the chance you won't be believed and that you might lose your livelihood.


By McQueary's account, Jerry Sandusky raped a child. At the very least, the grand jury report indicates he sexually assaulted multiple others. This is not something you tell your boss about and then continue on your merry way, mind at ease. Sandusky and Paterno were friends. I don't know how either of them sleeps at night. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who had the slightest inkling of what Sandusky was doing had a responsibility to alert the police. I understand that this is the sort of crime where being accused can ruin someone, even if the accusation turns out to be false. But there was not grey area around what Calhoun or McQueary saw. For at least nine years, the Pennsylvania State University football system harbored a predator in its midst, and did absolutely nothing. Paterno is right to leave, but waiting until the end of football season? Did anyone stop to think that perhaps that continues to send the wrong message?

As you can imagine, my friend is sick over the entire story. With her permission, I'll quote part of a letter she wrote to Sandusky:

In the decades that you have been associated with The Pennsylvania State University, you must not have listened to the alma mater very closely or taken it to heart.

May no act of ours bring shame,
To one heart that loves thy name.
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.

I know the NCAA has taken a lot of heat lately, especially with regards to football, but as writer (and friend) Gautham Nagesh mused, perhaps it is time to think about the death penalty for PSU football.