In Which I Empathize with Penn State Fans

(edit: fixed grammar on poll)

I'm going to ignore the fact that Joe Paterno has just been ousted as the Penn State head coach, along with basically the entire administration, just for a second.  I'm going to look inward at what I do for four months of the year.  For the fall, those magical four months of the year, this is my weekly schedule.

Saturday: watch the Michigan game.  Be happy and watch other games if M wins, root against rivals.  If M loses, be sad, generally grouchy toward anyone near me, and sleep/drink early.

Sunday: Watch the Lions game/NFL if Michigan won.  If not, sulk. 

Monday-Tuesday: review coverage of weekend in football.  Begin to either come down from high or come out from low.

Wednesday: Start getting excited about the next weekend of football.

Thursday-Friday: Become increasingly unbearable until only my father and Dave will talk to me about football, or really anything.

And the cycle repeats.  It really isn't healthy, and my roommates and loved ones (except my dad, who takes it harder than I do) often tell me I have a problem.  But I love it.  All I want to do is watch football, and talk about football.  Stuff other than football takes a backseat.  Heaven forbid there's a program-shaking scandal in the middle of the season - I'll glance at it, maybe even write about it, but I just hope it doesn't happen to my program.  The last couple years have been rough as a Michigan fan, and last offseason alternated between anger, denial, sadness, happiness, and Hokeamania.  I'm probably one of millions that felt that way.  The thing is, there are multiple fanbases across the country that have exactly those kind of fans.  Millions of them.  USC.  Ohio State.  Miami.  Florida.  Texas.  Penn State.

My point is, there are people out there, dedicated fans, that might not root for the same team I do, but I get where they're coming from.  They post on blogs like this one, just with colors in orange and black or blue and white.  They have jerseys on their walls with numbers other than 16, 10, and 7.  And right now, I feel really, really bad for those in and around Happy Valley.  No fanbase deserves what is happening to them right now.

Going into the season, Penn State had a lot to cheer about.  Another solid recruiting class, a manageable schedule, and, if all else fails, they knew they would see a dinosaur, a legend, a relic, an ageless wonder, a mountain of a man coaching from the sidelines or the press box.  I know most Penn State fans' greatest concern at the beginning of the season was whether JoePa would be injured by a player again, or, heaven forbid, have health problems befitting a man of his venerable age.  No one saw this coming.  No one should have to.

In light of the allegations that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky committed many, many acts of sexual misconduct involving boys and young men, the Penn State program has crumbled.  Sure, Beaver Stadium is still there.  People are camping out in Paternoville (probably to be renamed) as we speak.  The team, the team, the team is still practicing and suiting up for a huge game against rival Nebraska this weekend.  But let's face it.  Joe Paterno isn't just the face of the Penn State program.  He is the Penn State program.  More than any player, any team, or anything else at the university. JoePa is it.  The man, the legend.  And now his monstrous legacy of 46 years and more wins than anyone, almost entirely unblemished until now, is crumbling.

This issue stinks.  Should those responsible and liable be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?  Yes.  Was Joe Paterno, not under the terms of his contract with the university, but under the terms of his contract with nearly every human being on this planet, required to report the crimes not only to his superiors, but to the police?  Yes.  Does he deserve to finally leave Penn State under this cloud?  Yes.  So where does that leave his legacy?  I'm not sure.

Many tend to rush to judgments about "legacies" and "impacts" in the world today, especially in the world of sports.  It is impossible to deny that Joe Paterno has had a tremendous impact on many, many lives in and around the PSU program.  And, it seems, via negligence, a very negative impact on a few as well.  So does he deserve all this?  Again, I'm not sure.  That to me isn't the issue here.  The focus should be on making sure the alleged victims and their families get the justice they deserve, and that they are properly taken care of by the Penn State community.  I have no doubt that the latter will happen.  The former, though, is murkier.  As merely a devoted college football fan, I can't begin to claim the credibility to pass a judgment on what "should" happen at Penn State or what "should" happen with the B1G championship trophy.

So I've mentioned Joe Paterno and the program, but I haven't quite gotten to the crux of my point here - the fans.  This scandal could have happened at any one of the universities around the country.  The sad reality of the world in which we live is that certain individuals have dark natures and twisted tendencies, and use positions of power to prey on the weak, like Jerry Sandusky allegedly did.  But his alleged actions and the scandal that has followed has wreaked havoc on Penn State's fanbase.  I'm willing to wager that there are literally millions of Penn State fans that are shocked right now.  And some percentage of those fans, likely hundreds of thousands or more, are like me and could not fathom the effects that a bombshell like this would have on our psyches.  I, personally, wouldn't be able to deal with it.  All sorts of things about faith and tradition and a man I would have trusted almost unequivocally would probably crumble.  And for that, Nittany Lion faithful, I am truly sorry.

I am sorry that this has to be the focus of the week, the month, the season, and JoePa's career.  I'm not suggesting that we sweep this under the rug, or that the focus is unwarranted or unjustified.  In a case like this, even in today's world of sensational media, things like this need to come out.  It's just a crying shame, a damn shame, that anything happened at all, particularly to a program and to a fanbase and allegedly to a group of young men that were probably Penn State fans.  All of them deserved better, starting with the alleged victims.

The Penn State fanbase, the truly faithful ones, will shake their heads and trudge on, ready to cheer their team on against Nebraska with a new head coach for the first time in many of their entire, if not adult, lives.  But they will do so under a completely unnecessary cloud of sadness, suspicion, and anger, one that was brought about by the alleged actions of one twisted man and the failure of his colleague, the legendary Joe Paterno, to report them to proper authorities.  For that, Penn State faithful, I can only imagine what you are going through.

First and foremost, the thoughts and prayers of this entire blog are with the alleged victims and their families.  But also take a moment to think about the fractured and devastated fanbase of Penn State football, because the ripple effects of this scandal affect each and every person that has rooted for the blue and white for the last half-century.  My heart as a human goes out to the victims.  But my heart as a fan goes out to the entire Penn State community.

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