By Jason Keidel
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Cruising my cable neighborhood, I parked my remote at the “Worldwide Leader” for a moment and actually heard something interesting. Mike Greenberg, of all people, asked a poignant question.
Will you root for Penn State this season?
As we snap the seal on a new football season, many Americans will wonder how Penn State will crawl out of the coffin that Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno dug over decades of crimes and cover-ups.
As some of us predicted, the underclassmen of Penn State football are engaged in a historic exodus, fleeing like Tokyo natives as Godzilla lumbers upon the shore.
To anyone who says that the world was soft on Penn State, consider the official punishment and the implicit pain Penn State is enduring. According to a recent blurb in Sports Illustrated, the migration from State College is about to reach double-digits. We haven’t even slapped the dust off our college football digests and plenty of Nittany Lions have bolted for greener gridirons.
And we’re not talking scrubs. These kids are taking their talents to perennial powers like USC, Oklahoma, LSU and Texas. And the horde mentality makes its own momentum, so expect that number to spike, particularly since these kids can justifiably pack their bags with impunity.
Some of us lauded the NCAA for throwing the book at Penn State, flashing some frontier justice and making up punishments on the fly while they stampeded through Happy Valley. Consider the $60 million fine, which will go to educate and protect victims of child abuse.
The most specious argument against the NCAA taking action was this rehearsed concern for “The Kids” — presumably the young men who signed on to play football at State College. It’s funny how the kids are so important now when they can help Penn State football, but not so important when they were nameless, faceless, prepubescent kids being raped in a shower by Sandusky.
So the sound and fury from both sides has died a few decibels, replaced by a solemn, pensive perspective that often follows tragedy and the knee-jerk assumptions. We discovered that Paterno wasn’t merely a peripheral player in the Sandusky atrocities; the king Nittany Lion’s paws were all over the concealment. His plunge from grace was hasty and historic, dissolving into a football footnote and splashed across the archives for all the wrong reasons.
But the blowback, the nuclear fallout that follows scandals of this scope — and, thankfully, there aren’t that many — will be felt for five to 10 years.
I should make some amends. Throughout my Jihad on Paterno, I never mentioned that my mother attended Penn State. And that was because it wasn’t germane. She never followed football, nor was she a Paterno apologist. “Nail his ass!” were her words when hearing about Sandusky, and the obvious notion that Paterno knew everything about everyone on his team, including his top lieutenant.
And while there have been more Paterno apologists — today they still fight with endless fervor, even declaring that the Freeh Report was little more than a glorified witch hunt after JoePa, specifically designed to demonize him to the exclusion of all others while providing no proof or motive for them to do so — there are some fine folks who reside in State College who, sadly and inevitably, have been sprayed by the symbolic blood of these atrocities.
If I even implied that all Penn State alums praised, participated or promoted this conduct and subsequent cover-up, then I apologize. Sadly, there are still daunting and haunting numbers of Pennsylvanians still ensconced in the Orwellian groupthink, convinced to the end that Paterno was tangentially and accidentally involved in the Sandusky horror. I’m afraid it’s far deeper than that. Paterno cared more about himself, his team and his legacy than molested, assaulted, sodomized children.
But that doesn’t mean that you, my mom, Sweeny Murti, Kim Jones, etc. in any way want anything other than the entire truth and the entire weight of the legal world on the backs of the remaining miscreants.
History is freckled with innocent men, women and children who were harmed or killed by the actions of their government, or others who bent the rules while wrapped in the flag. From Nazi Germany to the Empire of Japan to Jim Crow, the harmless masses are often painted with the bloody brush that their bosses abused. And, as with them, there are State College denizens devastated by the actions of that wretched quartet at Penn State: Sandusky, Paterno, Graham Spanier and Gary Shultz.
It’s not fair. But it’s a whole lot better than what those boys endured in dark locker rooms and dank basements.
In theory we should root for them, with the idea of justice and the ideal of progress, just as we tried on 9/11. Let the bad guys burn and their replacements blossom. I wish it were that simple.
On 9/12 we looked awkwardly, if not angrily, at those who dressed like those who hijacked our planes, even if the garb were all that connected the two. So it might be with Penn State. It will take some time for our eyes to adjust, for our hearts to open, for our souls to forgive.
Young men will play for Penn State this fall. They will play under the anonymity of white helmets, enveloped by red leaves and under blue skies in the middle of a massive huddle for 100,000 strong in Beaver Stadium. In theory, they are innocent.
In truth, they are stained.
It’s not fair. But we’ve learned from Paterno that truth is relative.
In the aftermath of everything, will you be rooting for Penn State this season? Let us know why or why not in the comments section below…