Saturday, November 12, 2011

"May no act of ours bring shame..."

One of the many long-standing traditions at Penn State is a joke that centers around the singing of the university's alma mater, titled "For the Glory of Old State".  The song is played at every home football game, but the running gag is that nobody knows the lyrics.  So they sing the proper melody but they substitute the phrase, "We don't know the goddamn words".  Today at Beaver Stadium, prior to the start of the Nittany Lions' moving first game since news broke of the devastating child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation, everyone knew the words.

I have to admit that I didn't know the words either, that is until my commencement ceremony this past August -- the lyrics were printed in the program for our convenience.  Not long after I had walked to the stage and accepted my degree with a handshake from PSU president Graham Spanier (a thought that now makes my blood run cold), I stood in my cap and gown to sing the song.  One line that struck me was, "May no act of ours bring shame, To one heart that loves thy name".  I cannot begin to explain the deluge of emotions that Penn Staters have experienced over the past week, but shame is certainly one of them. 

Shame that supposedly responsible adults could exhibit such profoundly poor judgement as to place the reputation of a university and its football program above the safety of innocent children.  Shame that so-called men, all fathers and grandfathers, did nothing to stop crimes so heinous that I either become nauseous or cry (or both) every time I read about them.  Shame that a strapping 28-year-old 6' 4" former quarterback could somehow not muster the courage to bust into the shower, tear a young boy away from a 58-year-old monster and pull him to safety, then report the incident to the police.  Shame that a legendary coach who, both on the field and off, had done enough good for three universities will now go down in history as one who turned a blind eye to the evil in his midst.

Yes, Joe Paterno is/was beloved.  I've been a lifelong devoted fan of his.  But he did the legal bare minimum in reporting the 2002 assault to his "superior", athletic director Tim Curley -- he fell inconceivably short of meeting his moral obligation.  Um, by the way, anyone with a smidge of common sense knows that JoePa really ran the university, and wielded enough power that had he truly wanted to he could have pressured the right people to ensure that the incident was being investigated, or at the very least could have inquired about the welfare of a 10-year-old boy who was witnessed being brutalized in his locker room shower.  It was with very conflicted emotions that I realized that the university's Board of Trustees had to make the painful choice to fire Coach Paterno.  I realize that there are plenty of people who vehemently disagree with me.  Some of them were unable to set aside their hero worship long enough to formulate an objective opinion and vented their outrage by rioting on campus.  Of course, they're the ones who showed up on cable news coverage representing Penn State to the entire nation.  Gee, thanks morons.

There was far more airtime devoted an estimated 20-30 idiotic rioters than to the 10,000 peaceful students, faculty, and community members who crowded onto the lawn of Old Main for Friday night's candlelight vigil in honor of the victims.  That, sadly, is the nature of our sensationalistic 24-hour news cycle world.  And as the days, weeks, and months progress, those same news outlets will be filling their airwaves with any scrap of speculation and innuendo that they can get their ratings-hungry hands on.  I fear that the worst of this horrible scandal is yet to come.  Believe it or not, it's going to get even uglier.

So today, when the Nittany Lion football team took the field to play Nebraska, their first game since the unthinkable news shattered Happy Valley, outsiders slammed Penn Staters for continuing to glorify their football program.  I'm extraordinarily proud of our team for picking up the pieces and doing what they do with grace and dignity.  Why on earth should the players who've worked so hard to get where they are be penalized for the actions (or inactions) of others that they had nothing to do with?  How much do the critics want the university to suffer?  How can they justify using the misdeeds of a handful of men to judge some 95,000 current students and nearly a half-million alumni?  Oh, but they do.  And that hurts all of us who love Penn State.  But obviously those who suffer the deepest wounds are the victims and their families.  Eight boys that we know of were abused, but that number is already rising.   There are enough unanswered questions to fill a very sordid book.

I've been wanting to blog about my feelings around the scandal but every time I was about to start I would read someone else's writings that were so heartfelt, so eloquent, so poignant, that I felt my words couldn't do the issue justice.  But finally the time came for me to just spill -- I needed to get this stuff out of my system.  I want to thank my many friends who have checked to see if I'm okay in the wake of this mess.  It'll take time, but I'll be fine, as will Penn State.  Well, that may take lots of time.  But we should be the least of your worries.  We all must join together to make certain that no child suffers in silence again. 

May no act of ours bring shame.