“We Are…” Still Not Getting It

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Joe Patern...

Penn State former head coach Joe Paterno (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

By Chez Pazienza: I’ll make this quick.

The subject of the Penn State sex abuse scandal has always been an odd one for me when it comes to being able to make any sort of comment. The reason for this is that there’s a kind of conflict of interest at play — namely, all of my ex’s siblings went to Penn State and their rabid allegiance to it was the subject of quite a bit of back-and-forth between us during my time with their sister. I’ve never been someone who aligns myself with any one group, let alone intransigently, and so I never could understand the cult-like devotion and blood-brotherhood ethos with fellow alumni that an alma mater could inspire. It just didn’t make a bit of sense to me and so I often looked at the traditional machinations and proclamations of unwavering faith that went along with an alliance with Penn State in much the same way that someone studying a long-isolated tribe in the interest of science probably would have.

But with several days having gone by since the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue from Happy Valley — it’s now been transferred to a “secret location” — and following the NCAA’s pounding of Penn State’s football program as punishment for its institutional failures while kids were being raped, I think a couple of things need to be addressed. Specifically, the indignant reaction from many of the Penn State faithful to the various penalties being leveled at the school highlights in disconcerting fashion exactly why this atrocity was allowed to continue for as long as it did.

I’m certainly not going to paint every student, graduate and fan of Penn State with the same broad, blue-and-white brush; there’s no denying that a pretty sizable percentage of Penn State fans grasp just how horrific Jerry Sandusky’s actions were and what an inexcusable dereliction of duty it was for some of the university’s most powerful people to do almost nothing in response to them. But it’s shocking how many people, through social media and public protest, continue to defend “JoePa” and act as if the real injustice here is that his name and legacy and the overall reputation of Penn State are somehow being dragged through the mud unnecessarily. I get the whole “We Are…” thing and the desire to reassert the good that Penn State has done throughout its storied history; again, it would be unfair to characterize the actions of a few as being symbolic of the entire institution. But to not accept that there was, in fact, systemic corruption that allowed unthinkable acts to occur and that, when it comes time to levy punishment, the endemic nature of that failure has to be taken into account — the fact that its very existence was owed to an attempt to protect the institution that was screwing up so dramatically and unforgivably — just adds to the problem.

What those who defend Penn State and Joe Paterno against all comers — who look for mitigating circumstances and concoct ridiculous rationalizations for the sins of their idols — don’t seem to understand is that it’s exactly this kind of thinking that allowed Sandusky to get away with what he did for so long. Like so many associated with Penn State, those at the top who failed to do the right thing as human beings were seduced and deluded by their institution’s hallowed reputation for being a beacon of character and integrity. They sought ways to convince themselves that guarding the distinction of Happy Valley as being representative of a singular type of righteousness served a greater good, even as a predatory old man was raping children right under their noses. They believed, selfishly, that, despite the rot that was being allowed to consume their athletic program, Penn State still stood for unequaled good and that that was worth protecting at all costs, for reasons both personal and financial.

It was blind faith and hubris which led to this shameful scandal in the first place.

It’s staggering that those who still exhibit both in the defense of Penn State don’t seem to realize that.

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