Huffpost Sports
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Natalie Thomas Headshot

Dear Penn State Fans... Don't Forget Who the Real Victims Are

Posted: Updated:

I didn't go to Penn State. But I know many who did. I'm from Pennsylvania and plenty of my friends and some of my family spent four years or more in State College. Growing up, I knew who "JoePa" was before I could read and, in my teens, sported frayed and faded Nittany Lions boxers to bed. I know the fans, I know their loyalty and I know their spirit. And I knew the NCAA ruling on July 23, 2012 would be received with heavy hearts and mixed emotions. But, I must say, I'm extremely disappointed by the way in which some are responding to the sanctions.

My news feeds are peppered with postings from alumni and fans in outrage over the sentencing. The comments, which range from defiant to ignorant, make me sick. Many of the statements and attitudes read less like support and more like hostility not to mention insensitivity. I appreciate standing by your school when times are tough and that the Penn State legion are not fair-weather folk and I respect their resilience and the belief that they will, one day, rise again. I feel for those who have given their lives to making the university a great place only to have the name tarnished in this way and it sucks for the current students and athletes but what was the alternative?

It's a difficult thing in life when innocent bystanders, rule-followers and good people, trying hard to live their lives by the book are punished by proxy because of a few bad eggs. But that's life. Weren't we taught as kids that it isn't always fair? I certainly was.

The thing that cannot be lost here, that matters more than sports ever will, is the sanctity of the human spirit. If it's stripped from anyone, anytime and people in power, aware of the situation, ignore it for any reason, we are failing as a society. We further fail when the wrongs start to be righted and our response is one of selfishness.

I understand being disappointed that your alma mater is the subject of negative attention and that games you played in, attended or cheered on are now considered losses but, c'mon, people, put your pride aside and grasp the bigger picture. Numerous boys -- that we know of, likely many more that we don't -- had the ultimate violation made against them. Their childhood robbed, innocence stolen, trust taken, lives forever changed -- the ramifications and ripple effects so tremendous they will be felt for generations to come.

This is not about a football team or a university. This is not about wins, losses or records. This is not even about one, sick man or an entire organization that, by averting their eyes, turning their heads and closing their mouths ignited this detrimental problem. This is about the children.

I don't care how great the speeches were, how long the team reigned supreme or how many titles were secured. None of that negates the fact that years upon years of abuse were overlooked and numerous helpless, hopeless little boys were left to cope in silence. Those children didn't have a voice. Any one of those officials, if they cared more about human life than victories or glory, could have been that for them. They failed them. They failed us.

How do you excuse that abomination? This is not a difference of opinion. It's not about disagreeing with taste or style, coaching or playbooks. It's not even about a man's transgressions. It's about right and wrong. And power, money, ego and greed.

We teach our kids to display good sportsmanship, to accept defeat and be gracious when they lose. What is it saying when this kind of thing happens and we stomp our feet complaining about what we lost instead of those boys? We teach them to be honest, decent, kind people and to stand up for themselves and others. So what do we tell them when the people in charge, the coaches and mentors, the leaders they look up to acted more like followers and cowardly ones at that? Because it's no longer t-ball and, instead, a Division I school it's now somehow acceptable?

Consequences exist for a reason. Sadly, this kind of thing is going on all over our country -- in our homes and in our schools. The verdict doesn't take away the pain of those violated nor will it eradicate all of the sexual predators out there but, if far-reaching, example-making, harsh punishment was not enforced and instilled, it would be as if we were saying it was okay. Okay to turn the other way when our children are being molested and raped. Okay because it wasn't us who did it. Okay because if we pretend we didn't see it, suspect it, hear or read about it, it almost didn't happen. Okay because we're afraid of the ramifications. Okay because athletics, records and a legend and otherwise good man's reputation are at stake.

I'm relieved Penn State is being made an example of. I'm thankful they're finally being held responsible for what they ignored and covered up for so long. I'm thrilled that the money they're fined will go to victims of child abuse. Hopefully others will pay attention, speak up, the sickos will zip up and we'll start to put an end to this epidemic.

Many of you still have your happy memories from Happy Valley, untainted from the stripping of the record and fining of the school. But those boys? Those boys most likely spent their young lives being afraid, ashamed and alone. And you can bet that those incidents manifested in their adult lives, causing trouble for their family and friends and that they're now grown men still having nightmares, fathers to little kids who can't get too close to daddy because he doesn't like to be touched, sons to parents whose hearts broke years ago never to be repaired. And, in their wake, there are most likely others being abused because those who never sought help, never spoke up, are repeating the vicious cycle of violence. And there are boys and girls, living carefree summer days right now, unaware that their innocence is about to be stolen, their life forever tainted the moment the next sexual predator walks into their world.

So every time your knee-jerk reaction is to hop on the bandwagon of "it's not fair" or "innocent people are being punished for something they didn't do," think about those kids, now adults, and their kids. Think about how fair it was for them. Think about your own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Think about any innocent human life being violated in such a horrific way. They're worth the losses, aren't they? If this ruling makes one person, just one, speak up, stand up, blow the whistle or seek help for for a voiceless child, isn't it worth it? While the ruling doesn't take the pain away or erase the past, and to many of you, it doesn't seem just, it's one step closer, no matter how small, to ensuring this kind of thing never happens again. And, I, for one, think that's worth a few titles.

From Our Partners