Why I’ll Always Root Against Penn State

My whole life I’ve been pretty ambivalent about Penn State’s football program. I don’t follow college football all that closely, and while the team I grew up rooting for, Minnesota, is in the Big Ten, they and the Nittany Lions were never exactly rivals. Friends and relatives of mine are alumni and hardcore supporters of the football program, and they’re sort of treated as a “home team” here in Philadelphia despite being several hours away.
But after the last few months, I’m no longer so ambivalent: I feel a strong, angry contempt towards the school and the football program that I don’t expect to go away anytime soon.
We all know the story: In 2002, Jerry Sandusky, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was caught, red-handed, raping an underage boy in a shower in the Penn State facilities. An assistant coach caught him in the act, and later told coach Joe Paterno. Regardless of how specific the description was, Paterno ran it up the chain, telling administrators who subsequently sat on their hands. Then, nine years passed before Sandusky was finally arrested and charged with dozens of counts of abuse.
The university president was fired, the two administrators who were warned were both indicted and Paterno was terminated as well. Fans of the team rioted on campus at the news of Paterno’s dismissal, and last week, at a series of town meetings with alumni, the primary cause of outrage was the way Paterno was treated. At the Philadelphia meeting, among the first questions asked were whether the school will apologize to Paterno, and when they plan to honor him.
And this is the cause of my anger at these sad, myopic people. They didn’t riot because a known child rapist was allowed to continue unimpeded for nearly a decade. They rioted because a football coach that they loved was fired in a way that they found unsatisfying. It’s hard to imagine a more egregious case of misplaced outrage or failure to see the forest for the trees.
Was Paterno treated unfairly? The correct answer is, “who cares?” I care that dozens of children were molested, and many people on multiple levels of bureaucracy -Paterno included- failed to stop it. On the outrage scale, that’s a 10 out of 10. The circumstances of Paterno’s firing are a 1 out of 10, if that.
Then there are these embarrassing former PSU players, such as LaVar Arrington, who promised earlier this month to no longer wear Penn State merchandise and put the awards he earned there in storage. Because he’s so angry that child rapes took place at his alma mater and no one stopped them? Actually no, it’s because he wasn’t happy that ex-players were not consulted in the search for Paterno’s replacement, and the school settled on Bill O’Brien, a coach with no significant ties to Penn State.
My opinion of Paterno is that he was by all accounts a good and honorable man and all-time great football coach, who made a catastrophic error in judgment late in life that will harm his legacy perhaps irreparably. But the school was absolutely right to fire him, and if, as he said in an interview this week, he was unaware of the specifics of exactly what male-on-male rape is, perhaps that’s a sign that he should’ve retired a long time ago.
On the morning of Penn State’s first home game after Paterno’s firing, an acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook that while she didn’t attend Penn State and had never even been there, she felt that, after all that happened in the last week- the indictments, the firings, the riots- everyone in Pennsylvania needed to come together in solidarity and support the team. I didn’t. I rooted against them that day, and I plan to continue doing so for a long, long time.


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