Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Nov 11, 2011

In The Darkness. Seeking The Light.


I don't even know where to begin.

The words that I will use here—the words I will use to describe my mental state at this moment—are the same words that everyone else in Penn State nation has already used. They don’t even begin to tell the full story.

Stunned and saddened.

Bewildered and confused.

Angry and bitter.

But mostly: Wounded. Wounded very deeply.

Those of us who love Penn State—students, alumni, fans—have fumbled our way through this past week in what can only be described as a state of shock. And no, I do not mean a metaphorical state of shock. I mean a real state of shock; we are sick, and depressed, and more than anything else, incredibly sad. We cannot function. Mock us if you will—and yeah, I see that some of you out there have already begun to do so—but this ever-unfolding tragedy, this entirely unthinkable turn of events, this scandal of still unknown proportions, has left us completely and utterly unhinged.

Something we believed in was exposed to be, in some ways, a mere myth. Something we care about, and care about very deeply, has been imperiled—its very existence officially placed in doubt. Somebody we admired and adored has been destroyed—his image tarnished forever, his legacy stained, all of the good work and good things he's ever done buried beneath the rubble of this utter freaking catastrophe in State College, a catastrophe that he could not or did not stop.

Our university lie in shambles. Our football program teeters on collapse. Everything we ever believed about both has been called into question.

And now we are left to wonder if there is a future for either.

If there is a black hole in the college football universe, we've just been sucked into it.

The question is whether there's any way out.


I am going to try to write this piece with a sense of hope.

I am going to try my best to look forward, to remind myself that despite the darkness of moment—and it is a dark, dark moment, indeed—that there can be light again, that the shame and anger and bitterness and confusion that we are currently feeling will some day pass, that we in Nittany Nation will once again be allowed—by ourselves, and by others—to unabashedly love our football program, to love our university, to love college football at Penn State and all that comes along with it.

I am going to try to bite my tongue.

But I won't bit my tongue entirely, because before I get the point of this piece—before I look hopefully to the future, for a once-proud program that can and will be proud again, if only given the chance—I just want to take a moment to tell all of you sanctimonious know-it-alls out there, and there are a great many of you, just one thing.

That thing is this: You don't understand us.

Very clearly, you do not understand us.

Let me make this clear. There is not a single right-thinking Penn State fan who does not acknowledge that the real victims here are the victims of that monster, Jerry Sandusky. There is not a single right-thinking Penn State fan who does not acknowledge that Joe Paterno and Tim Curley and Graham Spanier did not do enough—not nearly enough—to prevent an awful situation from getting even more awful. There is not a single right-thinking Penn State fan who does not understand that Joe had to go, that the entire administration had to go with him, that reparations must be paid, that the university and the university community will have to fight and claw and scrap to earn back any kind of public trust. There is not a single right-thinking Penn State fan who does not understand that enormous, catastrophic, life-changing mistakes were made, and that because those mistakes were made, innocents have suffered. There is not a single right-thinking Penn State fan who is not utterly ashamed to be associated with a small group of men who failed so miserably in its responsibility to protect helpless children.

It crushes us. We are devastated. We are saddened. We don't know up from down, to be quite frank, because we have been blindsided. We are just now dragging ourselves up off the mat.

But despite our anger and despair and confusion, and despite what you may think about us, we are doing what we can, in the darkness of the moment, to do the right thing. Some of us are raising money. Some of us are advocating for change. Some of us are asking the very questions that need to be asked—about what went wrong, and how, and what we can do, as individuals and as a collective, to never allow anything like this to ever happen again. To anybody.

So, please, do us a favor, media types, and spare us your sanctimonious bullshit. Spare us your tisk-tisking about those rioting Penn State students the other night—you know, the ones you secretly wanted to riot all along, just so you could have some footage to broadcast, some copy to write, some air to fill. Spare us your empty platitudes—your suggestions that the rest of the season should be cancelled, that the Penn State program should be eliminated. And spare us, too, from the infuriating notion that we somehow contributed to this catastrophe, simply because we love our university and our football program. The mere suggestion is appalling. Repellant. Revolting.

We don't need to hear it. We don't want to hear it. Because though you have clearly decided that we are a bunch of mindless animals, we are actually a good bunch of folks who are just having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that a huge piece of our life—and, yes, it is OK, too, to admit that a college football program can be a huge part of your life—has just gone up in flames.

Yeah, we’re ashamed.

Yeah, we’re confused.

Yeah, we're devastated.

Yeah, we're hurting.

Please don't revel in it.

Or at the very least, do a better job of hiding it.


Now, back to my point. Back to the point of this column. Back to the question that, in a big picture sense, hangs, unanswered and ominous, over the place we once called Happy Valley.

That question is this: What now?

How do we move forward?

How do we even begin to go about the titanic challenge of rebuilding, even as the rubble of What Once Was lie smoldering around us?

I have thought long and hard about this over the past few days. And, fellow Penn Staters, I have come to a fairly simple conclusion: None of this—none of What Comes Next—will be easy. Because as bad as it’s been over the past week, well, it’s only going to get worse.

It would be easy to assume that we’ve been to hell and back. But the reality is, we have not been to hell and back, because we have only just begun our descent into hell. And only with superhuman effort, and superhuman strength of character, and superhuman humility, can we ever hope to regain an ounce of what we once had—the pride we once felt in this program, the pride we once felt in this university, the pride we once felt in being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Make no mistake: We have lost something.

We have lost our identity.

We are no longer the Penn State we believed we were. We are no longer the program of The Grand Experiment, the program of Paterno, the program that "wins the right way." We are no longer the fans that get to sit on the proverbial high horse, the fans that get to look down on everyone else, the fans that get to operate under the assumption that while we may not win every week, we at least operate on a different, higher level. Those days are over, and indeed, perhaps should never have been in the first place.

As of today, we are the fans of the most hated college football program in America—possibly the most hated college football program this nation has ever seen. People despise what happened here—as well they should—and so, by extension, some of them are going to despise you. They will call you an enabler. They will call you an apologist. They will call you a hypocrite.

And you know what? You're going to have to take it. You're going to have to suffer the fools. Because in some sense—and you may not want to hear this—we kind of deserve it. For far too long, you see, we played the role of the sanctimonious jerk. For far too long, we were the ones tsk-tsking the rest of the college football world. For far too long, we were the patronizing asses. And now, well, now we have to pay.

So my advice for you is simple: Suck it up. Don't fight back. Don't be quick to anger. Let them have their say, respond with class and dignity, and move on.

There is nothing you can say that can ever convince them that your program isn't immoral, and a stain on the game, and something that must be eradicated. There is nothing you can say, you see, because at this point, with so much damage done and more damage being done by the day, words only ring hollow. Nobody cares what we as Penn Staters say.

Only through our actions can we even hope to find the light again.


In my darkest moment this week, with even more horrible rumors about this horrible situation afoot, with the black hole seemingly threatening to swallow us whole, with my despair over this entire sordid affair deepening to the point where I wondered if any of this was actually worth it, I realized somehow that it was no longer enough to just sit there and pout, to just sit there and mourn, to just sit there and watch as this university and this football program crumbles to the ground.

I realized that my “despair,” while real, was neither useful nor relevant.

And I realized, too, that the only way forward for Penn State—for Penn Staters as individuals, for Penn State as an institution, for Penn State as a football program—is with action. Positive action. We must put our despair aside. We must try to make a difference. We must do everything and anything we can to turn this thing around. Because we are in the black hole, and while some say there is no way out, and while they may indeed be right, we are not dead yet. So we must fumble forward, in the darkest of the dark, with at least some faint hope that we can find the light.

Now, we may not find it. We may not survive this intact. We may not get what we want. And indeed, we may indeed lose some things that we can hardly fathom living without. But at the very least, we have to fight. We have to try. We have to act.

I will not claim to have made a massive difference with that I did at that moment. I will not claim that the small donation I made to the Children’s Defense Fund will change the world, or solve any real problems, or even begin to make up for the havoc wreaked by Sandusky and his enablers. But I will tell you that the simple act of making that one small donation did help. It helped me.

No, it did not make the pain and despair go away. But it did give me the sense, if just for a second or two, that I am not actually powerless here. It gave me the sense that I can make a difference. That I do have the ability, every single day, with every single action, to help Penn State reclaim some sense of dignity.

This, my friends, is the path we must follow: The path of positive action.

There is nothing we can do about those who hate us. There is nothing we can do to prevent the powers-that-be from making the decisions they are going to make. And I want to be perfectly honest with you, because you need to fully understand where we stand today: Some truly horrible, truly unthinkable decisions may be made.

Don’t doubt even for a moment that there are those in this world, including those in positions of power, that want this university to suffer. Don’t doubt even for a moment that there are those who want this week’s game against Nebraska cancelled. Don’t doubt for a moment that there will be discussions—soon—about shutting this football program down entirely. These things will happen. You must acknowledge this. You must prepare yourself to see your university torn down, hollowed out, eviscerated. And yes, you must prepare yourself to lose Penn State football forever.

Shutting down the program would, of course, accomplish nothing. It would be unfair, and tragic, and debilitating. It would crush the souls of those students. It would tear the hearts out of the alumni. It would sucker-punch the fans. It would cost thousands of people their jobs and thousands more their livelihoods. And, yeah, it would probably leave a whole lot of young Penn State fans—kids like my 7-year-old son Jack, who loves Penn State football, and watching Penn State football with his Dad, as much as anything on this earth—in tears. If that day were to come, we would have the right to be angry. Furious, even. And again, I cannot promise you that day won’t come.

But even as we acknowledge that truth, even as we understand that more pain may yet arrive, even as we accept our powerlessness, and even as we give in to the reality that something dear may be taken from us, we must also stick to the path. It’s our only hope.

We must act—for the victims, for their families, for the community, for our unversity, for the future. We must make a difference. We must show the world what we are all about.

We must show our sincere and real sorrow for the victims of this tragedy.

We must support those victims and their families in any and every way possible.

We must—as individuals, as a football program, as a university—raise as much money as we can to support causes that can help alleviate the pain caused by child abuse.

We must conduct ourselves with the greatest dignity and class that we can muster—at the game on Saturday, after the game downtown, in the difficult weeks to come.

We must do something every single day to help Penn State win back its dignity.

We must show humility.

We must turn the other cheek.

We must with our every action contribute to the greater cause of rebuilding this once great university.

We must keep moving forward.

We must not fear the darkness, and we must seek the light.

We must do this, because We Are.

And we can be again.

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