We (Still) Are

Cameron Conaway suggests,”Love to the victims and to all that is good about Penn State University.”

Penn State is not Penn State football. And besides, WE ARE… missing the point.

As a proud Penn State alum, I’ve long disliked how people speak of “Penn State” as football and not as the educational powerhouse it is. I completed the majority of my undergraduate degree at Penn State Altoona, and it was there where I met professors that bettered the course of my life, spent hours with me outside of their office hours, and helped me develop as a person who could go on and inspire others. I somehow received a world-class progressive education by award-winning professors and writers at a tiny Penn State branch campus in a highly conservative town. This is the Penn State I know. The repulsive acts of a few should not and will not define one of our country’s best universities.

Twitter lit up with posts about how Joe Paterno should have retired years ago or how it was sad this happened right after he broke the all-time college football wins record. Students even pushed over a WTAJ news van in protest over JoePa’s firing. The focus was not and still is not where it needs to be. Children were raped. Yet WE need instant revenge. WE need immediate answers. But WE are not thinking about others. WE ARE…reacting only with the primitive amygdala rather than thinking with the neocortex. It doesn’t matter if you are a Penn State alum or fan or not. WE ARE missing the point. As Penn State Criminology professor Ed Day told me:

Love for the victim is what’s needed to break through their alienation. Instead, because the victimizer represents a threat to what we want to believe is sacred, our typical response is hatred towards the offender rather than compassion for the victim. We dedicate the bulk of our energy and resources towards punishment rather than healing. We set our goal as revenge rather than repair, leaving the victims to despair on their own and accomplishing so much less than we could.

During my years as a poet at Penn State, juxtapositions and ironies were all the more apparent. In Spanish class, I’d participate and work hard while the football players fell asleep or copied answers or watched porn on a smart phone right in front of the adjunct professors. They all received A’s, likely received a free education, and hundreds of thousands of fans enthusiastically cheered for them on the field. Meanwhile, I received the grades I deserved and four years and many accolades later am still digging my way out of mounds of student debt. True, it’s in large part due to the money brought in by the football program that I had the chance to study with some great professors. But education was created as an institution to support learners, and it’s become an institution that supports athletes and indebts learners. Bad things are bound to happen.


Aaron Gordon captured this immorality and more here. I could have addressed male lust, but here Tom Matlack has done it justice. I wanted to delve into the absurdity and dangers of college football tribalism but here minister Gary Percesepe does just that. Even the heartbreak of “belonging” or about how many feel “let down” by the university was covered in this article. What about power and pedestals? That was done beautifully here. Instead, I can write only what I know. I’m proud to be part of PSU, but this does not mean I endorse or am proud of everything they do. Even the Good Men Project does things I don’t like.

Look, entitlement reigns in football programs everywhere, but especially when an entire country cheers for you as if you’re heroes. Want a heroic story? Look at former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro. Eleven years ago he suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury and was told he’d never walk again. He made an inspirationa; recovery, went on to law school and a few days ago won a seat on the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders. Did you hear about that? Probably not.

Similarly, great university news silently rolls in. Last September, for example, the Wall Street Journal listed Penn State as the number one school in the nation when it comes to producing the best graduates according to academic strength, communication, and leadership skills. Not Harvard. Not Stanford. Did you know that? Probably not. But Joe Paterno can literally shit himself and make world news.

In April, TheBestCollege.org listed Penn State World Campus the #1 online institution in the nation. In August, Aviation Week named Penn State the best university for aerospace engineering hires. Penn State also leads THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, to which they continually break donation records. Last year, Penn State’s THON raised 7.8 million for the Four Diamonds Fund, which offers financial and emotional support to pediatric cancer patients and their families. Never heard of these things? It’s no wonder. It takes effort to get news these days. If you’re getting your news spoonfed, then you’re not getting the news.

For whatever reason, we live in a culture obsessed with college football. We cheer for players regardless if they’re total screw-offs in real life. For the most part, we don’t care. It’s not that all of these players inspire us with their amazing work ethics or self-discipline—let’s be honest here, most of the great college football players are first and foremost genetic specimens. Try as we might, most of us can never be a 6’4” 250-pound linebacker with a 42-inch vertical leap. Some of us get so brainwashed by “our” teams that we begin to hate other teams and we will even protect “our” players.

No, our quarterback didn’t rape those girls, it’s just women wanting fame. That was not a first down, ugh, Notre Dame always cheats like that. The refs ripped us off, as always.

Of course, sport has many good lessons to teach. But we need something that will never happen: a movement that frowns upon grown adults whose lives are consumed by games and Kim Kardashian weddings. These adults then go on to be the loudest complainers on important life issues they are ignorant about. There is a fine line between taking some chill time and wasting your life. I fear that too many people are on the wrong side and I believe that this is a major reason why our country is in the mess it’s in.


The recent PSU tragedy is but a microcosm for deep-rooted societal ills. Using all of our energy to point the finger at the PSU perpetrators is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed leg.

Love to the victims and to all that is good about Penn State University.

photo by caitlinator / flickr


The GMP on Penn State:

We Are?

Paterno and Pedestals, Julie Gillis

When the Game Becomes Religion, Gary Percesepe

Male Lust Arrives in Happy Valley, Tom Matlack

Destroying a Young Boy’s Soul, Ken Solin

Power Is at the Core of Sexual Harassment, Mervyn Kaufman

The Tragic Lionization of Joe Paterno, Tom Ley

Men, Monsters, and the Media, Nicole Johnson

Loyalty and Responsibility at Penn State, Andrew Smiler

Jerry Sandusky and Penn State: A Familiar Story, Sophia Sadinsky

Beware the Legacy You Are Protecting: Winning Isn’t Everything, Eli Kaplan

Institutional Injustice: Why Rooting For Universities Breeds Immorality, Aaron Gordon

I Failed, Rick Morris

Sandusky-ed, Tim Green

Penn State: What Are We Talking About?, L. Edward Day

We (Still) Are, Cameron Conaway

Cognitive Dissonance and the Sandusky Situation, Justin Cascio

Start Snitching, David Perez


About Cameron Conaway

Cameron Conaway is a former MMA fighter, an award-winning poet and the 2014 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. He is the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, Bonemeal: Poems, Until You Make the Shore and Malaria, Poems. Conaway is also on the Editorial Board at Slavery Today. Follow him on Google+ and on Twitter: @CameronConaway.

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