Last week, LaVar Arrington took to his facebook page to speak to Penn Staters, and to put in words what many of us have felt in the nearly five years since the Sandusky scandal first came to wide public light. Of the many things that Arrington voiced, one struck me the most; after the scandal, Arrington felt that
"The second someone ask me where I went to college I instantly anticipate what the next question will be.
We've been made fun of, insulted, frowned upon.
I'm sick of it, there's nothing wrong with the pride and dignity we hold in our hearts
for our school. I felt guilty to be proud of who I am and what I represent as a PSU'er."
He went on to decry that feeling--to express that he's still "trying to find peace within" everything that happened, but that we shouldn't feel guilty. We shouldn't feel guilty for loving our school and our community and for wearing the Blue and the White, for continuing to support a place and the people that have given and continue to give us so much.
Virtually immediately after the stories started breaking, after Joe Paterno was fired and Tim Curley and Gary Schultz and eventually Graham Spanier were charged, we as a community became more insular. We almost started to become what outsiders always decried we were--but how could we not be? Living outside of central Pennsylvania, I witness firsthand all of the uneducated people who simply sneered at any PSU memorabilia, not knowing anything beyond the basic media bullet points, and it was simply easier to want to associate with fellow Penn Staters who would get it. I lost friends, people who I had known for years, because they wouldn't (or perhaps couldn't) think beyond what was widely publicized, and I definitely couldn't get beyond my stance that there was more that was being portrayed in media and I wanted to wait for all of the facts to come out before we made a definitive stance on anyone's involvement beyond Jerry Sandusky's. I still hold to that initial stance, though my views have evolved; I no longer believe we will ever find out everything. And, in the echo chamber that is today's media landscape, I'm not so sure that if the true "facts" came out, it would make much of a difference.
But the point of this column is not to digress into a rehashing of IT. It's not to finger point, to come out on the side of the Alumni Association or Franco Harris on this latest bout of infighting amongst Penn Staters. We should be trying to rise above it--to try to acknowledge our differences, yes, but to agree on common ground.
It's to say that above all else--whatever infighting, whatever factions may exist, we have to remember one thing: we all love Penn State. We are all Penn Staters. We all hold that "pride and dignity" that LaVar speaks of, whether we are alumni of the University or not, and in my view that is for good reason.
Football may be the face of Penn State; it may be the cash cow that drives donations, that helps our University be great in so many other ways. Football drew attention to a small town in central Pennsylvania, and turned a farmer's high school into a renowned Land Grant University. But now? It's just the barest tip of the iceberg in terms of what makes Penn State a place I'm proud to be a part of, and to love.
I could make a laundry list of what I love about Penn State, of why I come back every fall Saturday, some weekends in the winter, on Blue White weekend, and why I'll be back in July for Arts Fest. Many of you named your favorite traditions, and what draws you back, a week ago. This list is far from complete, and would grow exponentially every year.
But despite all of the physical and near-superficial (in my everyday life, at least) things on that list, the one thing that would top it would absolutely be the people.
The community that was in many ways forced to become somewhat insular over the past five years has become for so many of us a salvation, and, in reality, our extended family.
My "real" family is, as many of you know, all Penn Staters (including those who didn't attend the University; I'm not one of those who believes that to be a Penn Stater, you must have attended the school). I'm lucky in that regard, as they can understand my burning passion (and some might say insanity) for all things Penn State and Penn State athletics. But the thing about PSU that so many outside of the community, that LaVar hits so well on in his post, is that we are all family--and truly, "only those who lived it can understand it".
The Penn State family, despite our infighting even on these and other boards and sometimes even in person, is one that I'm proud to call my own. I'm proud to go abroad and see the chipmunk logo on a fellow traveler's hat, call out a "WE ARE" across a crowed train and get a surprised, but excited, PENN STATE in response. It's going on vacation to a place I go every year, and find another family full of Penn Staters and have a discussion over which family is cooler--because we're simply trying to out-Nittany Lion each other.
It's why I tailgate; my extended Penn State family, my friends who've become so much a part of not just football life but life life, make even the worst on-field performances worth the trek. As we say at the end of every season, through the rain and the snow and the lost children who wander our way and the port-a-potty attendants who try to shut our party down, we're still undefeated in tailgating.
Penn State is about the people. It's something most other communities simply don't get. We're still around, and we thrived despite change. As now-Detroit Lion Anthony Zettel said regarding what the University has been through, "I think it's the best school out there, and not a lot of schools could overcome that."
The people are why we Thon. It’s why there’s Lift for Life. It’s why PSU is one of the country’s most LGBTQ-friendly schools.
There's been so much change at Penn State and PSU sports in the past five years. And with the Lasch Building upgrades and the impending upgrades to Beaver Stadium and the BJC off the field, and new offensive and defensive coordinators on the field for James Franklin this year, the change is likely to continue. But change isn't necessarily a bad thing.
As a great coach once said, "You're gonna get better or you're gonna get worse, but you're not gonna stay the same. Which will it be?"
I choose better.