Friday, November 11, 2011

I am Penn State

I'm sure many of you have been following the Penn State scandal with a heavy heart, as I have. I am a Penn State alumnus, class of 1997. My father went there (class of 1954) as did my grandfather (class of 1928). I have numerous friends and relatives attending there now. 

Football team, 1927. From my grandfather's scrapbook.
If you said that I should "bleed blue and white" well, you'd be wrong. I bleed like every other human being and this scandal has cut me to the core. I have cried for those boys every day, and I am doing it again right now...

I can't stop thinking about those poor children and how they must have gone home, got into their beds and cried. And nobody did anything to help them. They were so vulnerable and had no one to go to.

If there is any comfort to be gained from all of this, it is that so many of us in the Penn State community are outraged and hopefully would have done the right thing if we saw that little boy getting raped. Going forward I think the best way to heal is to do whatever we can do to give children a save place to go and a responsible adult to talk to. If only these kids had had someone to confide in, I want to believe that this abuse would have been stopped long ago.

My grandparents near center of campus. Caption reads, "Still love each other, April '27"
We also need to reevaluate our priorities when it comes to college athletics. I love sports, and football is at the top of the list. I played in the Blue Band; I was on that field in front of 100,000 rabid fans. I participated in that game day spectacle that will occur again tomorrow. I received all expenses-paid trips to the Rose Bowl and other privileges. But if this situation is what comes out of blind allegiance to sports at the expense of humanity, then count me out. Modern college athletics have become a different beast entirely than for what they were originally intended. 

When money and prestige drive a program and a school instead of the well-being of its people we have gone down the wrong path. What ever happened to the days when "student athlete" meant something- that you were a student first, not just auditioning for TV ratings and the NFL? At Penn State, we always paid lip service to that ideal, that Joe Paterno made sure his players did well in class and graduated. But they were always football players first and foremost, and that is what has led to his downfall.

We need to return to that notion of athletics as a secondary facet of a well-rounded education. We need to stop treating kids as money-makers and start valuing them as individuals. We need to stop rewarding mediocre classroom performance with athletic scholarships at all levels. Don't give me the argument that Joe Schmo would never have gotten into Penn State except for his athletic prowess- we should be investing that athletic budget into helping him get good grades on his homework instead of excusing him to go to high school football practice. 

Look at the way the service academies do it- no one gets in purely on athletics. They have to be accepted on their academic merit first. Somehow they manage to produce a decent, competitive football team and at the same time don't lose focus on the "student" part of the "student-athlete". I'm not saying that everyone can or should adopt the rest of the service academy standards, but it seems to me that they do keep the focus off the field, where it should be. 

Student Pep rally, 1927. Near West Hall dorms. From my grandfather's scrapbook.
Way back in my grandfather's day, this was the case at Penn State. Football was just one part of the overall academic experience. Sure, students played and went to the games, but no one expected the football team to subsidize the rest of the school and no one was using college football as a springboard to the NFL. Back when "the New Beaver Field" was built (in 1909, near Rec Hall) it held 30,000 people. It was central to the campus and not isolated. Football players were definitely BMOCs, but were still expected to show up to class and graduate on time, with an education they could use. 
1925 football tickets for the "New Beaver Field". Unused, as they all should be tomorrow.

We need to get back to those days of small-time athletics, where the emphasis is placed on building a strong mind and a strong body, and a strong school. We need to return to college football as a pastime, not a means to an end. Strip Penn State of all its NCAA scholarships, put the football team back on par with the girls' tennis team and let the academics be first and foremost. Cancel the rest of the season and the next one as well. Let's get some perspective on who we are as Penn Staters and what we should be doing to be the best people we can be. Let those 10 year old boys that will live in our memories forever have the justice they deserve and a lasting legacy of humanity at Penn State instead of just going about "business as usual".


  1. Thanks you for the well written post.

  2. Very well written. We can only hope that good comes of this. I agree that our society needs to get their priorities in order so that the innocent don't suffer.

  3. Thank you for such a heartfelt post. I agree with you completely. As an educator, I've said for 30+ years that we have the cart before the horse. Since you also attended school in Texas, you know the emphasis that our state puts on sports as well. This scandal proves how skewed our perspective has become on athletics. High schools and universities across the country should stop, take stock and make some sweeping changes.

  4. As your neighbor to the west, an Ohio State Alumna myself, I am following this story with interest and sadness. I agree with everything you said. We've had a rough year watching our coach Jim Tressel fall in scandal and it is hard. But we've got to have our priorities in order. We cannot hold our programs and institutions and "heroes" so high that we take leave of our humanity to keep them perched on their pedestals. I told my boys when Tressel got fired that you can't stand on lies, you can only stand on the truth, even if it hurts in the process. State will get through this, you guys are a tough lot! xo