Column: Why you root for Penn State
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 01:09
Two words that resonate like a shrieking baby aboard a screeching train to any and every kicker in football.
1998: They trip up Gary Anderson trying to send the Vikings to the Super Bowl, after he had made good on 67 straight kicks that season. 2002: ‘Wide left’ resurfaces in Tallahassee to pull the rug out from under Florida State’s Xavier Beitia attempting to upset No. 1 Miami. Last January: The phrase haunts Billy Cundiff from just 32 yards away and awards the AFC championship to the Patriots.
Then just four days ago, the words victimized Sam Ficken, the kicker who tried to give Penn State its first win since being victimized itself by a much graver expression: child sex abuse; long-standing, disgusting, concealed, and simply unimaginable, child abuse.
Now, this subject is not one easily broached. Yet thankfully, it’s also not a story whose hard facts that need much re-telling. Nearly a year has come and gone since the scandal broke and induced investigations that revealed actions and failures to act that made any moral person horrified. For a while afterward, fans and uninvolved members of the football program seemed to be living in a new circle of Hell.
The media (doing its due diligence) pulled and dragged out every devilish detail of the Sandusky saga. As a result, the spectating American public cast the entire community and program in bed with the monster and the leaders who deliberately covered up his crimes. They were more or less for a long time, helpless against the prejudice and stigma.
So, you should root for Penn State.
Then, after the long-awaited start of a season finally came to pass nearly three weeks ago, the new team struggled. The season opener turned out to be an eventual bereavement at Beaver Stadium when little known Ohio left town with a win. The disappointment at home was then quickly coupled with a gut-wrenching road loss to Virginia. At this present day, the Nittany Lions have two games in the books, both filed under the heading ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’.
So, you should root for Penn State.
In the future, things will not be any easier, regardless of 2012 wins and losses. Thanks to sanctions applied by the NCAA, the bloodlines of maintaining a quality football program will be severely constricted. 40 fewer scholarships over five seasons; probation for the same duration; No post-season for four years; A $60 million fine and the vacating of over a decade’s worth of wins.
Thus, not only will players and coaches currently apart of the program suffer, but also an entire future class will come and go with not a sniff of bowl eligibility and for some individuals, a well-deserved scholarship.
Yet, not one Penn State player, coach or employee will be at fault for the punishment they endure. Not to mention, the NCAA carried out these penalties without a single citation of rule violation.
So, for these reasons and more, you should root for recovery. You should root for healing.
You should root for Nittany Lion football because it will bring both of those things about for a deserving community.
A community that is now rooting for a new group of coaches, in charge of a resilient bunch of players. As detailed in a remarkable, all-access piece by ESPN’s Ivan Meisel, first-year head coach Bill O’Brien has opened up his doors to the outside world.
When you read about Meisel’s peek inside, you see the typical lockerroom messages of hard work, perseverance, determination and togetherness scribbled on walls, but also embodied by the daily actions that take place within them.
Teammates picking one another up, fighting for the school of over 50,000 they belong to and the single man whose locker is next to his. Preparedness, accountability and competition exhibited by all people, from the back-ups to the starters. And a man at the helm in Bill O’Brien who is intent on making sure that every, single person knows and embraces their role to the furthest reaches of his ability.
Now, there is nothing in this world that comes even remotely close to excusable for what was done and failed to do in the past. The victims deserve every form of healing they can receive. But, rooting against this team or claiming they shouldn’t be playing because of deeds done by those now behind bars or let go, is wrong.
Let’s get this straight: Penn State is not Jerry Sandusky. Penn State was not Joe Paterno. Penn State will never, ever be just football.
Looking solely at the program itself, the organization is more than the players and coaches detailed above. It is the fans, students, alumni and residents of State College who pay and beckon for the game they love. Get within a couple hundred miles of the university and you’re likely to hear “We are! Penn State!” echoing off the nearby hills of central Pennsylvania.
And, they're right.
Thus, the games being played by that football team now are more than just games. They’re still the same joys and distractions from daily life any sports fans enjoy. But more importantly, they're healing and hope for anyone connected to that program and affected by scandal. And they’re a symbol of all the good things coming from inside and out of the football field.
Students are pouring money into foundations for victims of disease, abuse and adversity. People are turning out in record numbers for other sporting events to support other Nittany Lions. They’re returning to the normalcy they deserve after all the undeserved stigma and prejudice.
So, don’t fall for the trap of applying guilt by association, particularly when the evildoers are gone. It’s wrong.
Think about this: Are the current members of the UConn men’s basketball team academic loafers just because those in the past who incurred this year's post-season ban were? Do those players from five, six years ago make you or I any less successful in the classroom? No.