Like many Penn State alum, Larry Bernstein was horrified by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal and wonders if rooting for his alma mater will ever be the same.
It’s early in the college football season. My alma mater is 2-0, including a win in its opener on a last second field goal.
On Monday, the school got even better news. Penn State—my alma mater—had its post-season ban lifted and will receive its full allotment of scholarships next year.
Yay, go State. Rah Rah.
I should be feeling all that, I suppose. And I am to some degree, but I don’t necessarily want to talk about that.
It’s been nearly three years since the horror of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal has been brought to light. Much has changed about the University. Sandusky (who was no longer a coach on the team) has been convicted and is serving a minimum 30-year term. Graham Spanier, the president of the University, was forced to resign. Tim Curley, athletic director, was fired. Legendary coach Joe Paterno was also fired. The University has paid out millions to the victims.
The football team itself has undergone onerous sanctions. The team had its second new coach (not including the interim coach who completed the 2011 season)—James Franklin—on the sidelines since Paterno was fired.
I grew up loving the Penn State football team. I read, watched, and listened to their games. Joe Paterno, old Joe, was cool. He was classic. He was classy. He was a winner, just like the football program itself.
While I was a student at the University, I did not thrive academically. I blame myself and my uncertainty. Yet, on those weekends the football team played at home, my experiences were thrilling. The small town in Central Pennsylvania swelled as alumni and others flooded in. The sense of excitement and anticipation for the coming game was palpable. The nights from Thursday through to Saturday, the streets were teeming, the bars were packed, and the parties were jammed. And then there was the game itself. I went to every home game. My friends and I would walk to Beaver Stadium and enjoy the tailgating before heading to the student section. The stands were filled and the students were raucous. I loved the atmosphere, the chants—we want the Lion—and the camaraderie.
Upon graduation and as the years passed, my interest in college football waned. It wasn’t just the fact that Penn State went through some lean years. I simply had less opportunity to watch the games as my attention was elsewhere. Yet I always rooted for Penn State. I was a member of the alumni association. I donated money to the University. I was happy to hear of a graduate or professor doing something special or meaningful.
I felt pride in my University.
And then there was the scandal.
I didn’t know how to react. A sick, deviant, perverted man had violated children. The University seemingly had some idea of what was going on, but did not go to the police. Was football and the money it generated and the University’s image more important than making sure a single child would be spared?
How could my University—Penn State—lose its morals so completely? Horrified and ashamed are not strong enough words to describe my feelings.
I can’t remember the results of the remaining games in the 2011 season. When it mercifully ended, I was happy to not hear about football. By the time the 2012 season started, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, the actual players did not do anything wrong. The majority of the players did not know Sandusky and may not have even known his name if it weren’t for the scandal. So, why should they have to suffer the consequences? Yet college football is big money and the University’s dependence upon it was what caused Penn State to lose its moral compass. Ultimately, I wanted the football team to win, but my heart was not in it.
At this point, I root for the team. I know the names of some of the key players. I know they had an excellent recruiting class. I will read, watch, or listen to games when I have the time.
However, something is still missing. My pride in Penn State is gone. In fact, when I tell people I attended Penn State, I feel a need to explain or apologize for the school.
I am not sure what the University can do to make me feel proud of it again. Maybe, the chant, “We are Penn State” will never feel the same.
Credit: Image—Caitlin Regan/Flickr