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Thomas Alter Headshot

Penn State Students and Paterno

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Civil disobedience is as American as baseball and apple pie. From Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King to the thousands of Anti-War protestors who've lined our nation's streets throughout its history, the freedom to rally peacefully around a common cause is what makes America great. So thousands of Penn State University students protesting peacefully Tuesday night should be a good thing. What were their complaints? Exorbitant fees? Nope. Shoddy living conditions? Wrong again. Thousands of Stockholm syndrome afflicted students marched across campus in support of man they've never met, a football coach and an "educator" who cared more about the game than the sexual abuse of a child.

These misguided students were rallying in support of the legendary Joe Paterno. Paterno is under fire from Pennsylvania prosecutors and the national media for his enabling of an alleged mass sex offender, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Besides the students, the only people Paterno doesn't seem to be taking heat from is the higher ups at Penn State, partly because they have no real power over him anyway and because many of them may be in orange jumpsuits by the time this case plays out.

The charges against Sandusky are now known to everyone. At least 20 victims, with more potentially on the way, have accused the former coach of the most heinous sexual abuse. According to Grand Jury testimony, in March of 2002 a Penn State graduate assistant walked into the locker room and discovered Sandusky having anal sex with a 10-year old boy. The assistant told Paterno, who then told athletic director Tim Curley but apparently nobody else. Because he informed his superior, Paterno won't face legal ramifications from this incident, but the fact that creepy Sandusky was allowed to hang around the Penn State campus until last week is unconscionable.

The question now is, what happens to the emperor of Happy Valley? With the announcement Wednesday of Paterno's plan to resign, one would think that the Penn State community would be protesting the Athletic Department's blind eye towards such shocking crime. This scandal is shaping up to be one of the ugliest in the history of college athletics.

So why are Penn State students rallying behind their coach? Sure, some of this is due to mindless adolescents getting drunk and looking for something to do. More of the problem lies in the overall culture in State College, Pennsylvania. Everywhere you look there are reminders of Paterno's legend. The Penn State gift shop may as well be the a museum of Him. Is there anything Joe Paterno would have to do for these people to turn on him? Would he have to blow up a building? Hijack an airplane? Raise taxes? Why is child abuse an acceptable cost of winning?

More than anything, the videos of Penn State students singing fight songs while the list of victims grows is just sad. It's sad for them, it's sad for Paterno, and it's another embarrassment for the education system in this country. The Chinese blow past us in every imaginable category, while hundreds of American students bemoan the retiring of a coach who allowed a frequent sex offender to roam the halls.

So to the Penn State students who embarrassed themselves in front of the nation last night: Go to class, go to the bars or stay in your room. Just stop deifying Joe Paterno.

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