False idolaters. Enablers. Cult members. Deniers. Proxy pedophiles. Depraved. Insane. Deranged. Unconcerned about the safety and welfare of children.
These are just some of the things that have been said about me and my husband and people we know in the last six months. Why?
Because we are Penn State.
It goes without saying – but I will say it anyway, since I still feel the need for it to be said – that of course we do not have many nice things to say about some people formerly associated with Penn State right now. I might not have any nice things to say. In fact, I could probably come up with quite a few creative new curses for They Who Shall Not Be Named. Suffice it to say that a lot of the more unpleasant adjectives and epithets that have been lobbed at me since November more than apply to those individuals.
But we all already know that, don’t we?
Look, I don’t know if I have the language-processing capabilities to express how I feel about the scandal – no, not the scandal, the CRIMES – associated with Penn State and its football program. “Disappointed” is hardly strong enough. “Devastated” is an understatement. I don’t know what word comes next on the continuum. I don’t even know that “continuum” is the correct term, because it’s not so much a line as a giant swirling vortex. All of the emotions – we are feeling all of them, many of them at the same time. Anger at the monster, the predator, who actually did those terrible things to his victims. Sadness for the victims and their families. Revulsion for those in positions of power who could have done something, anything, but didn’t. Shame. Abject humiliation.
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But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure that my husband and I are not the ones who should be ashamed and humiliated. Because, despite what you might have heard about us – like, that we are false idolaters who have fallen under the thrall of the cult of personality surrounding the former head coach – we know that there is more to Penn State than football.
That’s another thing that goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, since nobody seems to want to say it, these days: THERE IS MORE TO PENN STATE TO FOOTBALL.
I grew up admiring Penn State, everything about it. It’s the Pennsylvania State University, and it’s a good school, and I’m proud of it. It’s in my blood. My father always wanted to go there, and he would have loved for his daughters to go there. He had to settle for Syracuse and Princeton and Misericordia instead, but I think he secretly holds out hope that one or more of us, or perhaps his grandchildren, will go to Penn State for something. But none of us played football, and while I wouldn’t put it past my daughter to be the first female starting QB in NCAA Division I history if she puts her mind to doing that, the strength of a college’s football program would never be the reason why she chooses to go there.
I am also associated with Penn State by marriage – my husband is a Penn State alum. He did not play football, or any sport, while he was there. He was just your average, ordinary Engineering major who went to Penn State because it has an excellent Engineering program, and because he could afford it. We have relatives and friends, many of them, who went to Penn State for the same reasons: because their [insert program name here] program is excellent, and they could afford it. Football was something to do on Saturdays, because there isn’t much else to do in State College on Saturdays, but I don’t know anyone personally, and I don’t know anyone who knows anyone personally, who went to Penn State just because of football. It is a good school with a very high graduation rate, even among its students who do go there to play football.
You know, despite what you might be hearing in the middle of this god-awful frenzy, it is a university, after all. The vast majority of people who visit or attend or work for Penn State University have no reasonable expectation of having anything to do with Penn State Football, beyond maybe attending a game. The vast majority of people probably don’t even want to, even before all this. There are about 40,000 students matriculating at Penn State, and there are about 2,200 faculty members. Only about 150 of those people are associated with the football program. And exactly ZERO of those people, beyond the names you’ve already heard, have been found culpable in any way for what happened. None of them knew what the university’s president, a vice president, the athletic director, and the head football coach all knew. Forty-two thousand people had NO IDEA what was going on.
Why would they?
And why should they all be punished?