My Plea for Penn State

These last few weeks have been a bad dream for all of us in the Penn State community. There is a small, childish hope inside us that we will wake up one day to find that Jerry Sandusky and the damage left in his wake never existed. It’s been three weeks of waiting without that wake-up call.

Our anger has been thrown in dozens of directions (and you can add the word "allegedly" throughout this list) – Sandusky for abusing children, Mike McQueary for not beating the hell out of Sandusky in the shower, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley for failing to follow up on McQueary’s report, Graham Spanier for unconditionally supporting men facing charges, the Board of Trustees for their handling of the Joe Paterno firing. Perhaps the most unifying target for our anger, however, has been the media, specifically and especially ESPN.

The aggression with which many in the media covered the story, along with the focus on Joe Paterno rather than Jerry Sandusky, has led many in the Penn State community to blame the media for Paterno’s firing. For several days, ESPN conducted an around-the-clock barrage against Paterno’s supposed lack of action.

The grand jury presentment does not state what Paterno did or did not know, nor does it state what he did or did not do with whatever it was that he knew. Despite this, a large portion of those covering this chose to approach the story on the grounds of, "The presentment does not state that Paterno went to the police, so even though it doesn’t say that he didn’t go to the police, our story is that Paterno did not do enough to stop this."

Then this week rolled around. Bernie Fine found his way into this discussion, and the response was markedly different from what we all saw a few short weeks ago. Discretion was suddenly the course we should take, and jumping to conclusions was replaced by patience and thoughtfulness. Jim Boeheim trumped Spanier’s "unconditional support" quote by calling the alleged victim a liar, and we were told we needed to be patient this time.

The Penn State community’s response to the media has been one of volume and anger. Unfortunately, the objective of that response has been off the mark. Based on responses directed toward ESPN personalities via Twitter and Facebook, calls for firings and shame on blogs and message boards, and general anger shared among colleagues and friends, Penn Staters seem more interested in tearing down ESPN than they do in a nobler pursuit: trying to restore the good name of Joe Paterno.

Rather than bring ESPN down to the level to which they brought down Paterno, we should instead focus on elevating Paterno back to where he once stood. Yes, there is a possibility that he did not do enough in the Sandusky situation; there is also the possibility he did what he could based on what he knew, and until that information becomes public, he deserves the support of the community and fan base he helped build for more than half a century.

Regardless of each individual’s feeling about Paterno’s performance as the head coach of the Penn State football team over the last several years, there may not be any individual in the world who has done more for one institution than Joe Paterno has done for Penn State. For decades, Penn Staters have taken great pride in what Paterno stands for and what he has done for the football team, Penn State, State College, and Pennsylvania. Paterno has told us he loves us, and he has meant it. He has stood by Penn State, and it is time Penn State stood by him in a manner that would make him proud.

My plea to the Penn State community is to save your energy spent on chastising ESPN; there will be another day for that. Save the voice that you were planning to use to tell whoever will listen that everyone at ESPN should be fired for their hypocrisy, and instead remind your neighbor of that good that Joe Paterno did for Penn State, for football and for you.

The man deserves at least that, and unless the day comes when I learn that he definitively failed in the responsibilities that come along with being human, I will do everything I can to give him that. You should too.

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