It’s been a sad week for Penn State’ers. Their school’s reputation is tarnished, their beloved coach was fired and most importantly, their school administrators displayed an appalling lack of judgment and integrity by not acting upon multiple reports of sexual assault.
As this saga unfolded, I’ve been less interested in the scandal itself and more in the reactions of the Penn State alums and fans.
I don’t profess to enjoy college football. I’ve attended several Delaware games over the years and rooted for Blue Hen Rich Gannon during his Raiders years. But I don’t go to tailgates, watch the Bowl games or cheer for my alma mater on Saturdays. (In fact, American University doesn’t even have a football team…)
As such, I’ve never understood the mania and fervor that surrounds Penn State football. Friends travel to Happy Valley several times a season, decked in blue and white, toting smokers, chili cookers and an endless supply of beer. They tailgate all morning before heading into the game, tweeting “We Are…” and posting pictures of themselves with cardboard cutouts of Coach Paterno.
When they aren’t on the road, they’re at home, skipping birthday parties and yard work to cheer on their Nittany Lions and extoll the coaching virtues of the iconic JoePa.
Over the past few days, I’ve watched alums grieve for the victims, the university and, yes, the football team. As with any loss, the faithful seem to move through stages of grief. Denial, anger, depression and acceptance are common themes in PSU-themed blogs, posts and tweets.
Some have criticized PSU fans for seemingly placing football above the well-being of children. Well, tell that to my burly friend who sat in his car and cried when Paterno announced he was stepping down, shortly before he was fired. That reaction speaks to more than just a venerated coach’s retirement.
At a recent dinner with friends, we talked about the abuse scandal that enveloped the Catholic Church. One friend’s voice wavered as she described the dismay, confusion and sense of loss she experienced when the news broke of abuses by priests.
We all know football isn’t religion, despite jokes to the contrary. But the faithful find their own meaning in the institution of Penn State and its Nittany Lions, just as others find it in the foundation of spiritual practice.
Our reverent Catholic friend still grieves for her Church. But she continues to go to Mass every Sunday. Don’t let the actions of a few…, as the saying goes. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, let’s hope the new Penn State, braver, wiser and more compassionate for this experience, continues to strive for “Success with Honor.”
Until then, State’ers, you should say it loud and proud: “We Are…I am Still…”