The words were coming and I was powerless to stop them. They were coming, I knew it, and I really didn't know how to prepare for them. Luckily, I suppose, they came in an email message and not over the phone or even in person. If it had been either of the latter two scenarios, I'm not sure I would have been able to keep it together.
Then, last Thursday afternoon, they arrived in my inbox.
"I sat on the couch last night and cried."
Just about 29 years old, I've looked up to many different men in my life, but only two have remained constant. One of them was abruptly fired from an institution I had revered for as long as I've been alive. The other had just admitted to me that he cried watching that institution crumble to the ground. I didn't think it was possible after the previous night, but my heart broke again.
My father is a strong man, once able to leap buildings in a single bound (it now takes him two leaps), but not even he was strong enough to get through this horrible tragedy. His somber mood, coupled with the underlying anger, exemplifies the struggle that many, many Penn State fans are going through, and it has been a difficult road to travel.
The Success, The Honor, The Pride...The Sadness
Born exactly one month prior to Penn State's first national championship, I've been ingrained with "the Penn State way" for as long as I can remember, and even before that. My father only spent two years at the Penn State Harrisburg campus, but that was enough. He was smitten from the start, and there was no way his first-born wasn't going to be groomed for Penn State.
I applied to three schools, but really only needed one application. The acceptance to Main Campus came, and the rest is history. I've been cheering on these Nittany Lions for almost three decades, and it's always been a point of pride, even in the darkest of Dark Years.
"Yea, but we do it right" I would tell friends that were rooting on the team-of-the-moment in middle school.
"At least we don't have any scandals" I told people in high school that ragged on my struggling team.
I was proud of the Success With Honor mantra. During the times without success, we had honor to fall back on. During times of both, we celebrated like children on Christmas morning. My father, brother and I waited anxiously in the stands during the 2006 Orange Bowl until Kevin Kelly finally kicked the winning field goal, and then we partied. Penn State kept our bonds strong, and made sure that we'd always have something to come back to, no matter what was happening in our lives.
Then, the horror happened.
America watched as the once-great Penn State name was dragged through the mud. The general public watched the idyllic setting that we all knew as our second home play host to throngs of blood-thirsty media from all corners of the nation. And those of us who knew those scenes so well were helpless.
Words were used in association with Penn State that we never imagined. Images were forced into our heads that no one should ever have to see. And a man that had become a father-like figure to many was tragically brought down at the hands of a group of people that most Penn State fans never knew existed.
My father cried. I cried. Nittany Nation cried. And that feeling persists 10 days later, despite time, actual football, and real life reemerging for all involved. The Penn State fan remains proud, but that pride is fractured. The Penn State fan refuses to believe that these heinous acts could even have occurred, let alone so close to home. The Penn State fan is confused. But the Penn State fan is angry.
Legends, Leaders and Bad Men
We are angry that, at least, one former legend is allegedly guilty of some horrendous, unthinkable crimes. At worst, the school that we have come to love is guilty of so much more. The possibilities are endless, especially with so much rumor and conjecture, hearsay and he-said-he-said going on. The main characters in this drama are posturing to save their own skins, and things are going from bad to ugly in rapid fashion.
We are angry that children were allegedly victimized. Lost innocence, lost childhoods, lost youth. Voiceless victims that do not deserve the life they will now have to live.
We are angry that our beliefs are now in question, and we are angry that an institution we once thought so highly of could possibly be at the center of something so evil.
In the wake of the worst scandal in college sports history, national media members began asking how anyone could still support a team, a university and an icon that could possibly have harbored a criminal for so long. They couldn't fathom how anyone could still root for the Penn State name. Simply, they didn't understand us.
It is not easy to dissociate from strongly held beliefs and turn so easily on those you grew up loving, idolizing, and believing represented all that was good with the sports world.
Is Joe Paterno guilty? Is Penn State? I don't know. We still don't know a vast majority of the facts, and likely will have to wade through a pile of artfully crafted statements and legal nomenclature to find the real truth.
What I do know is that the Penn State fan is in a strange position. A feeling has come over us that we're not used to, and one we're confused in how to deal with. We continue to be proud, but we also feel shame. We're still supportive, but we're angry. We love our school, our home, our way of life, but we're worried about what could be.
They say time heals all wounds, and I hope that's true. For my father, I hope that we can move past this dark period and once again establish what it truly means to be a Penn Stater - success, honor, pride, and above all, doing things the right way.