Commentary

Penn State scandal shocks community

Originally Published: November 7, 2011
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Editor's note: Dana O'Neil is an alum of Penn State University.

In State College, they bill it as being Penn State Proud. It's just another hokey rah-rah catchphrase conjured up to make us alumni feel good. Truth is, Penn Staters are no prouder than Ohio Staters or Alabama fans. College athletics live and thrive because of the personal connections its alumni experience.

Penn Staters right now aren't proud and they aren't merely embarrassed. They're hurt. The child-sex abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the news that two administrators failed to report them have rocked the fan and alumni base to its core.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Michael Hickey/US PresswireJoe Paterno will attempt to focus his team on Nebraska while enduring media scrutiny this week.

They are angry, but mostly they are hurt.

It's a unique reaction. Typically when a university comes under some sort of scrutiny, the alums and fans come out on the attack. Someone else is to blame: the media, an angry third party, the NCAA.

There's no other entity to blame here, no search for a logical explanation. The allegations against Sandusky are impossible to comprehend, but it is the inaction that has people equally confused.

People simply want to know, "How?" How could five grown men -- Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz, football coach Joe Paterno and graduate assistant Mike McQueary -- fail to turn this over to authorities?

If the Duke lacrosse case has taught us anything, we don't know what we don't know.

Knee-jerk reaction is easy and Twitter right now is afire with it.

But determining true guilt and assessing real blame, even involving the most heinous of crimes, is difficult business and one that I am surely not qualified to handle.

Then again, neither is a football coach, an athletic director or a university president.

There are people charged with the tricky jobs of investigating crimes, procuring indictments and determining guilt or innocence.

They have expertise, intelligence and most important, impartiality.

Why weren't those people ever contacted?

Turning this matter over to authorities alone would not have indicted Sandusky. It would merely say that there was a concern, one big enough that it could constitute a reprehensible crime, and that the people with the skills to handle it ought to be involved.

Yet it never happened. That's the hard part for Penn Staters. We can't explain what Sandusky is accused of because we can't imagine it.

We can imagine being placed in a position to do the right thing.

And more, we thought Penn State represented the one place where doing the right thing still mattered.

Penn State people believed in one thing: The last real hero in college athletics was on their sideline. Perhaps his time had passed. Maybe the recruits weren't lining up as they once did, but Paterno would go down as the rare man who stood his ground in a morally bankrupt and corrupt business.

There would never be another like him, a man who passed up more lucrative opportunities to instead build a one-time agricultural school into a national name brand; a coach who thought so much of academics that he donated his money to build a library; a football man who somehow spent 40-plus years in the business without so much as a whiff of an NCAA violation.

And now what?

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno Fans
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesPenn State fans have built Paterno into an icon in college sports.

Now what are we supposed to believe?

The attorney general has said Paterno did the right thing; by turning over his information about Sandusky to his superior, he fulfilled his legal obligation.

The problem is, we've come to expect more than just meeting an obligation from Paterno. We expect and believe that he has a moral compass that would propel him to do more, to pound his shoe on a desk and demand an investigation.

Is it reasonable? Maybe not. Who's to know how any of us would truly react when faced with such an unfathomable piece of news about someone we've known for 30-plus years? Who's to know exactly what Paterno was told?

Heroes and role models, we know, are a dangerous thing. Missteps are too easy, people too often are not what they appear to be.

The 84-year-old man with the Coke-bottle glasses and the high-water pants personified Penn State and what is right about sports.

And more, he never let us down.

That's why Penn Staters are simply devastated right now. There is a terrible sense of disappointment about what wasn't done and what should have been done.

I can't imagine what Saturday's football game will be like. I know fans will flock to Beaver Stadium for their weekly fall pilgrimage. They will tailgate and cheer and before kickoff, sing the alma mater.

Will they stumble when they get to this part?

    May no act of ours bring shame
    To one heart that loves thy name
    May our lives but swell thy fame,
    Dear old State, dear old State?

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

Dana O'Neil | email

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