So Rodney Erickson is going on Face the Nation this weekend? Why? Has there not been enough negative discussion of Penn State in the news recently? Has the Penn State name not been dragged through the mud enough, and we need to ensure that our University remains front and center in the spotlight? Will we ever get the chance to heal and move on when our leaders keep making mistake after misstep?
Whatever Public Relations efforts the University has been doing lately seem to be directed towards defending the actions of the Board of Trustees and very little towards repairing the brand that is Penn State. Students and alumni are verbally harrassed, cars and homes vandalized, internships have been withdrawn from students, and students have been forced to defend their alma mater in interviews. We have heard how our University is beset by a culture of football that forces academics to the background, and that view is only reinforced by our leaders.
Nevermind that the football program sports an 80% graduation rate, near the top of NCAA Division 1 teams, and all student-athletes have a 90% graduation rate - both of which are higher than the University average. Thats right - you are MORE likely to graduate from Penn State if you are a member of their athletic team. And while I personally may have been influenced in my decision to attend Penn State by the miracle victory in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, it was more the fact that the school had a nationally ranked Top 15 Electrical Engineering program that made my decision.
Yet, everytime our leaders open their mouth, the value of my diploma from Penn State drops in value. I wish Erickson and the Board of Trustees would just SHUT UP and stop devaluing my education at Penn State that has served me quite well over a very successful 20-year career. I was not a student-athlete, but I certainly enjoyed the sense of school pride and community that our sports programs fostered.
In fact, I was so disgusted by our lack of leadership at Penn State, that I was ready to simply pack it in. Take down all of my Penn State paraphernalia, donate all my Penn State clothing to goodwill, quit the Alumni Association, stop all donations and even take down my diplomas and put them in a drawer. In short - I was DONE with Penn State. Finished with their lack of leadership. Their lack of transparency. Sick of the lingering notion that the real cover-up was not about what the football program failed to do, but what political connections between the Board and The Second Mile existed.
What made me change my mind and decide to fight on? After the ridiculous penalities dropped on Penn State by the NCAA, I saw tremendous character emerge from a familiar spot - the football team. The young men reafirmed their committment to their school, their committment to their education, and their committment to their team. That's right - the "problem" that was the football culture at Penn State was what reminded me what was worth fighting for. I still find it extremely difficult to believe the standard media narrative given all that I've know about my school and its student-athletes, and the tremendous character that they have shown. I can see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears what it means to those kids to stick together, be a team and to finish their education and graduate at Penn State. At any other school, those NCAA sanctions would have ripped the team apart. But the NCAA underestimated the character of our kids, and it clearly got the idea about our flawed football culture wrong, and it certainly flat out LIED when it denigrated our committment to education.
Where are our leaders? They are certainly NOT in the President's Office, at the NCAA offices or on the Board of Trustees - they are more concerned about their own legacies, their own reputations, their own political aspirations and their own careers. They do not have the best interests of our students and alumni in mind. And yet, they still insist on pushing a flawed narrative and to destroy the Penn State brand. What are they really hiding? And what does it say about their character?