What's amazing to me is how they have all the answers.
Sportswriters, I mean. And radio hosts. And the guys on ESPN. And all the Twitter hacks.
It's staggering, really.
In the wake of the latest revelations about a truly unprecedented scandal, our collective sports intelligentsia has been able to immediately dig through the rubble, precisely pinpoint who and what was responsible for the disaster, and wisely draw up the plan by which everything can once again be made right, or at the very least, the plan by which they would feel satisfied that the responsible parties (of which are a great many, apparently) would be suitably punished.
They read the report (or perhaps didn't). They talked to Penn Staters (or perhaps didn't). They thought long and hard about the myriad issues that have played into and will continue to play into this whole freaking mess (or perhaps didn't). They did the careful mathematics of figuring out who exactly would suffer the consequences of their proposed course of action (or perhaps didn’t).
And with that, they told us what needs to happen, and why.
Because again, hey, they had all the answers.
Of course, they didn't have all the answers. What they had were deadlines.
The biggest scandal in the history of college football broke. And they needed to react. Quickly. So that's what they did, which is why we have over the past few days been bombarded with a truly historic cascade of sports-centric hyperbole and sanctimony, some of it honest, some of it self-serving, some of it truly ridiculous.
Among the many declarations that have been made by these prescient and thoughtful folks are the following:
1. Penn State should shut down its football program. Immediately and perhaps permanently.
2. The NCAA should shut down the Penn State football program if Penn State does not shut down its football program. Immediately and perhaps permanently.
3. Penn State fans owe a certain sportswriter an apology.
4. Penn State fans are culpable in this scandal because, well, they really like college football. Which is a true rarity among fans of big-time college football programs.
5. The town of State College and the surrounding communities of Centre County are culpable in this scandal because, well, they happen to exist within a short drive of Penn State University, home of Penn State football.
6. Because Penn State fans, the town of State College and the surrounding communities of Centre County are culpable in this scandal, the "collateral damage" that would inevitably result from Penn State football getting the death penalty is completely justified. Really.
7. College football is an inherently evil enterprise, and the time has perhaps come for it to be killed. The global death penalty, if you will.
I think that about covers it.
Here's the thing: I totally get it.
I totally get why so many people want Penn State football shut down, why they can't possibly fathom that Penn State fans actually want to turn up at Beaver Stadium this year and cheer on the Nittany Lions, why they don't particularly care that people who had absolutely nothing to do with this scandal will be punished should "the death penalty" ultimately be handed down.
I mean, let's face it. We're in unchartered waters here. This is the worst scandal in the history of college football. Nothing comes close. It’s ugly. It’s horrifying. And it happened up there, at Penn State.
So I don't begrudge these folks their feelings, or their anger. I don't begrudge them their opinions.
What bothers me, I think, is the stunningly confident finality with which they've issued these opinions. They're just so goddamned convinced that they're right—about how Penn State must be punished, about why Penn State fans are indeed partly to blame, about their belief that, yes, it's completely fine to punish the business owners of State College for something that they quite literally had nothing to do with.
No, the opinions don’t bother me. The opinions—they were fully expected.
But the finality with which those opinions have been handed down? Yes, that's what bothers me. And it bothers me not necessarily because I don't agree with those opinions, but rather because I don't believe the folks writing and saying these things necessarily believe what they're writing or saying. It bothers me because I’m quite certain that some of them are just saying stuff to say stuff, or just writing stuff to write stuff.
This huge, terrible thing happened. They needed to come up with a "take." They put a bunch of words on paper. Their editor said, "Good enough." So they published it.
And now, they can move on with their lives, satisfied at the very least that they have exerted their moral authority over a bunch of people that they've never met and very likely won't ever meet.
The Penn State thing happened. They issued their final judgment.
On to the next thing.
Except it's not that simple, and they know it. At least not for us it isn't.
As a Penn State fan I am guessing that you've been feeling like I've been feeling of late: Confused.
The initial allegations in November were a disorienting kick to the head. The intervening months have been painful, numbing, sickening. And the Freeh report? Well, it was the final hammer blow. The directness and forcefulness with which that report relayed its message was stunning, even if the conclusions drawn within it—they knew, they didn't do anything about it—really weren't.
I mean, let's not kid ourselves: We knew where we were headed. We knew what that report was going to say. We just didn't want to believe it.
But now we have no choice but believe it.
The question, of course, is where we go from here—as a community, and as individuals. It's the question I've been struggling to answer for the past few months, and it's the question my Penn State family and friends have been struggling to answer for the past few months, and so I'm guessing it's the question that you've been struggling to answer for the past few months, too.
What happens now for Penn State, and for Penn State football—and, yes, this is something that needs to be hashed out—and for our collective personal connections to Penn State?
Will it ever be the same? Should it ever the same?
Will I ever care as much as I once did? Should I ever care as much as I once did?
Should I take a break from Penn State football? Or should I support the program more now than ever before?
Should going to games this season (or next season, or the season after that) feel weird? And what if it doesn't feel weird?
Should I even attempt friendly batter with our rivals? Like, ever? Or is all of that stuff—that good-natured but sincere sense of rivalry that sits at the heart of our game—gone for good?
Should defend the program against its myriad detractors? Should I simply turn the other cheek? Should I care at all what they have to say about anything?
Should I argue against the "death penalty?" Or should I consider that, maybe, it's the best course of action?
Should I question the program more than it's already been questioned? Should I be cynical about college athletics—and about football specifically? Should I come to terms with the fact that college football, a game I have loved for three decades, always has been and always will be deeply, deeply flawed? And if do comes to those terms, should simply make peace with it and enjoy the game for what it is, or push for change?
Will tailgating up in the shadow of Mount Nittany ever be as fun and joyful and innocent as it once was?
Will my kids ever love Penn State as much as I once did? Will they want anything to do with Penn State at all?
Will I ever love Penn State as much as I once did?
Will Saturday ever be Saturday again?
And if not, well, then what?
I could go on for a while, and in fact I've probably gone on too long already, but I think you get my point: The questions abound. And as the season nears, perhaps you find yourself thinking, as I have at times, that you need to come up with your answers—your final answers—for all of them.
But here's the thing: You don't.
Because it's all simply too much—a scandal on the scale of ... well, again, we don’t even have a point of comparison here—to digest in a few months or a few weeks or a few days. The world we live in today as Penn Staters is not the world we lived in a year ago. The edifice is gone, the myths are gone. We remain. But we don’t have the answers.
And so we fumble forward, trying to make the best choices we can and trying to feel good about things again and trying to be respectful, of course, for the awfulness of it all.
This season will probably feel weird. The next season, if there is one at all, won't likely be much better. And over the months and years to come there will very likely be times when, because of a new revelation in this still unraveling case or because or an argument with a rival fan or because your own personal feelings about the still mindbendingly disturbing nature of all of this, that you'll say, "I'm done. I don't need this." And you'd be completely justified in doing so.
But then, you'll be perfectly justified, too, when you decide a few hours or a few days or a few weeks later that you're not done with it at all, that you do still love it, that the entire enterprise and all of those who have contributed to it over the decades are not actually corrupt to the core, and so they should not be treated as such.
You can change your mind about everything, pretty much any time, and you probably will.
When the Nittany Lions kick off on September 1 against Ohio, you'll likely feel awkwardness and relief and sadness and happiness and maybe if you're lucky there for a moment you'll feel almost nothing at all—you'll feel, ever so briefly, that you are simply a Penn Stater watching a Penn State football game, just the same as always.
The moment will end, of course. And you will realize once more than it's not the same as always, and never will be again.
It's gone, what we had. What remain are the questions.
They are here today and will remain for years to come. They will hang over this season and that town and that stadium for this season and many more seasons, too.
Don't expect them to go away. But don't feel like you need to answer them now, or tomorrow, or this season, or next.
Time will take are of that.