Normally at this time of year, I’d be rushing to my Xbox 360 to eagerly boot up the latest edition of EA Sports NCAA Football franchise. Year in and year out, my video game tradition started with the renaming of my players and their iconic head coach. My team was Penn State, and that coach was Joe Paterno.
As a kid growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, my home was a hyphinated city called Wilke-Barre, littered with coal mines, railroad tracks, and unemployment as far as the eyes could see. I’m fairly certain that my first steps as a baby were taken with the sole intent to leave and never come back. Sadly, an unaware parental unit impeeded my progress, forcing me to spend the next 17 years of my life conjuring up subsequent attempts to “exit, stage left…even.”
To make matters worse, this hopeless feeling wasn’t exclusive to Wilkes-Barre, it spilled over to the surrounding Pennsylvania towns that mirrored it’s likeness. So after highschool, I jumped at the opportunity to leave. Literally, I jumped. And for the most part, I’ve been a resident of Massachussettes ever since.
I still think about my time there, reminising about family and friends, but these days, the sports fan in me has a massive void that was once proudly filled with blue and white memorabilia, bottle cap glasses, an over the top scarf-wearing end zone dancing Nittany Lion, and countless chants of “WE ARE PENN STATE”. Pennsylvania may not have the skyscrapers of New York or the glitz and glamour of California, but it had Penn State football, and those of us that found solace in it clung on for dear life. For a long time, I was one of those people, but I can proudly say that I’m not anymore.
I gave up my loyalty to the progam and the coach privately months ago, but as more and more evidence was brought to light, my disgust for everything and everyone associated with the coverup of child molestation grew in such a way that I struggled to find the words for it until yesterday. You see, yesterday, former FBI agent, Louis Freeh, shared a statement made by Joe Paterno after he was made aware of the incident.
“You did what you had to do, now it’s up to me to decide what we want to do.” – Joe Paterno
It’s clear now, that he and everyone who surrounded him, decided to sit back, protect their legacy, rack up wins, and do nothing to seek justice for the children that were raped by Jerry Sandusky on their watch. Now, it’s my turn. They (Joe Paterno and Penn State) did what they had to do, and I’ve decided what I want to do.
While I may not be able to take back the years I loyally cheered them on, or make believe I never proudly wore a blue and white cap every Saturday spent tuning in from my couch. I can’t pretend I never walked along the sidelines of Beaver Stadium in amazement during the 1994 Blue and White game as an awe struck teenager, or erase the memory of sitting in their campus press room, getting my first taste of free press food while listening intently to coach Paterno speak about his young team with a patient fatherly tone I couldn’t help but admire.
I can’t undo any of those things, but I can walk away with my head held high. I’m not going to be one of the mindless fans that sit back waiting for the institution to restore its former glory, because the realist in me says that the greed and utter lack of compassion towards that which doesn’t end in victory on the field surrounding Penn State runs far deeper then anything we will ever be able to fully cleanse in my life time.
As a kid from a small town that hoped to mature into someone that does things the rigth way, a kid that entertained enrolling at Penn State, I looked up to, and often quoted, coach Paterno. Now, I come full circle when I say with disgust, that I’m ashamed of him and the organization he was a part of.
There’s a story I heard once about a young Paterno staring at his likeness in the newspaper when his father walked in and asked him what he was doing. Paterno responded something along the lines of “admiring the article that was written about me and our recent win.” His father then told him that if he admires it too long it may be the last time he ever sees something like it again. What I took away from that story was that it was more important in life to work hard, do the right thing, and not spend too much time worrying about what others will think or say about you. Sadly, at some point maintaining the mystique and legacy of Penn State became more important than doing the right thing.
Sure, you could argue that whatever wrong doing occurred there may have extended far beyond the reach of the iconic coach himself, but if he ever felt that powerless, if he ever felt that helpless, he always had the option of walking away and severing his ties with an organization whose priorities had gone astray. In other words, any conspiracy theories that revolve around potential death threats, or a lifeless district attorney found floating in the river don’t excuse the coach’s decision to remain on board if he in fact was against the cover up.
I don’t know how often this sort of thing happens in other collegiate programs, and frankly I don’t care to speculate on it. What I do know is it happened here, and if I ever hope to find enjoyment in college football again, be it reality on Saturday, or the video game realm at my leisure, it certainly won’t be the same way it was before.
So, if you’re a fan of college football, and you think you can sell me on your team of choice, give it your best shot, because right now, I’m available and looking.