Frankie O: What does Penn State stand for now?

Frankie O: What does Penn State stand for now?
November 11, 2011, 3:07 pm
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By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Life. It shows you something that you never expected every day. It is a complex and unforgiving world. But it also gives the opportunity for wonderful things to happen. Its why we live.

As you know I have a passion for the sports world that borders on the unhealthy. Rightly or wrongly, the fabric of my life has been has been intertwined with my participation or observation of athletic endeavors.

As for big-time college or pro sports, we usually are most affected by the teams that are in our backyard. For a young man growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia the last 50 years, that has meant being under the influence of Penn State football and Joe Paterno. Being that Im approaching 50, those two are one and the same. Its ironic that a geeky, Brooklyn- born, Ivy Leaguer would wield ultimate power in a blue-collar football-mad state, but If you played at any level as a kid, the goal was always one day to wear the plain blue and white while playing on Saturday. The story of local hero John Cappelletti being played out for an impressionable 11-year-old only cemented the deal. And as much as the football program loomed, the academic side was just as impressive. Quickly realizing my athletic limitations, the academic side would have to become my access to the school of my dreams. The standards there were no less daunting, but still it was my only choice. My circumstance would be that I would only be able to attend for two years and not attain a degree, but that did not change my attitude or feelings. In those moments when we are allowed to drift, Ive always fantasized about going back, but then I open another bill, and realize thats probably not going to happen. Still it was impossible for me not hold the university and football program in high regard. They had been a beacon for me for as long as I could remember.

In fact, at the bar, Penn State football was a frequent topic. As you would expect, the question of Joe loomed large in those conversations. I was often asked when he should go, and was steadfast in my opinion that he should stay as long as he wanted. In a win-at-all-cost world of big-time, big-money college football, Joe was a throwback, someone who had a lot of his priorities straight. His teams played the right way and his players graduated at a prolific rate. It meant something to part of Penn State. It meant that you were part of something better. Again, remember, Im saying this as a born cynic. I believe little of what I see, and less of what I hear. Life has shown me time after time, that few things are as good as they seem. But Joe, and Penn State, eluded my distrust. They were a part of me. Was Joe slowing down? Were the losses in the biggest games of the year disappointing? Absolutely. But did I want the program to sell its soul and become another Miami, USC or Ohio State? No way. No one lasts forever, I would argue, and a person that has committed his life to create something that has benefited so many, in so many different ways, has earned the right to pursue his victory total goals till the end. Was shamelessly chasing victory total records beneath him? Sure, but most ultra-successful people have a little bit of ego to fire them and he was no different. Also, Im sure there was a place in me that didnt want to let go. There are very few constants in life, and Joe on the sidelines, or lately in the booth, was one of them. It was comforting for me and profitable for the university. Ultimately, though, it was that type of thinking that has put us, and I type us because Im living it in my own small way, in this tragic mess that we are just now dealing with.

In my life, there have been plenty of times were I have made regrettable decisions or did things that Im not especially proud of. Im pretty sure Im not alone. But part of the maturation process and evolution of being human is that we learn from mistakes or realize that situations can be defined by right and wrong, not what is best. There arent, one would think, degrees of morality.

I first heard of the scandal enveloping my prized university Saturday night while I was behind the bar. My first reaction was total shock. How could this happen? After I got home that night I could barely fathom what I was reading on the internet. I was numb. There is sick stuff going on all around us, every moment, but we all find a way to shelter ourselves or else we wouldnt be able to function. But this was right in my face and there would be no avoiding it. During a trip home to watch the Eagles-Bears debacle, of which I would much rather be writing about, it was a constant topic of conversation. Upon getting home from work on Tuesday night, I finally read the grand jury report. Then I got angry. Its as disturbing as anything I have ever read. As a father, I could not stop thinking about the children involved and this should be the core issue. I cant understand how anyone involved could have forgotten this. The document portrays Jerry Sandusky for the evil predator that he is. Question number one: How is he out on bail? Society is not at risk by his being at-large? Among the things that defy comprehension, and there are many is that Sandusky had been under police investigation for improper behavior with a minor as long ago as 1998. Personally, I had no idea about this, but it defies credulity that no one associated with the Penn State University didnt also. This would include a certain god-like coach who ran the football teamathletic departmentuniversity. People with that much power do not get excluded when something of that magnitude happens in their fiefdom. How many friends of the program do you think worked in the local police department, campus police force, district attorneys office or child welfare agency? And Joe wasnt apprised of what happened then? Whatever! The campus police force works for the university! But thats just a cynical assumption on my part. But isnt it strange that a guy who obviously benefited from being a major player at a major university would decide to retire as a coach at the relatively young age of 55 soon after that investigation? Just wondering. But again, I dont have proof. Im just trying to connect the dots.

The thing that really brings the rage though is what was witnessed by then graduate assistant Mike McQueary. According to his grand jury testimony, he witnessed a child being sexually assaulted in the showers at the main football facility by Sandusky. I cant imagine what I would do in that situation, I dont want to imagine anything about it, but Im pretty certain that I wouldnt go back to my office and call my father and ask him what I should do. Does that make one wonder whether McQueary was totally shocked by what he saw? This was three years after the retirement, where there whispers around the program about a certain ex-coaches peculiarities? (The grand jury findings also describe a janitor witnessing an equally appalling act being performed by Sandusky in the same showers two years earlier.) I cant even begin to understand how he walked away, especially when he says that both the child and Sandusky saw him. Can you imagine that child thinking that someone could help him, then that person just walked away?

McQueary and his father decided that they had to report what he saw to Paterno and they did the next morning. At this point he says he described what he saw to him. They day after that, Paterno called for a meeting with athletic director Tim Curley to inform him of what McQueary had told him. And heres where the lawyering starts. McQueary then was called to a meeting the following week with Curley and Senior Vice President for Business and Finance to describe again what he had witnessed. For some reason, the trio of Paterno, Curley and Shultz determined that what McQueary had witnessed did not require any further outside interaction. Shultz is in charge of the campus police force for crying out loud! In questioning by the grand jury, both Curley and Shultz deny what McQueary had described to them was sexual in nature. Regardless of what you think of how McQueary acted when he witnessed the assault, his description in the grand jury was very specific and seemed very credible, making it hard to believe that he wasnt the same way in his meetings with the university officials. Apparently the grand jury agreed, since Curley and Shultz were arrested for perjury.

Again, reading the testimony of the victims made me shudder. How could it not? But what me shudder even more is that nothing was done to protect them, that a football program was deemed to be more important.

I was always proud of my connection with Penn State. The university has stood for doing the right thing while achieving your goals. In barroom discussions, incredibly, there was never any denial of this fact. People could bash me for my allegiance to my Philly sports teams, rightfully so, but my college football team was always beyond reproach. Suddenly, and sickeningly, that is all gone.

Unfortunately, the healing part cant begin until this sordid affair is over. My belief is that this is going to get worse, if thats possible, before it can get better. Many people are going to have to publicly come out and explain their actions, none more so than Paterno and McQueary.

We are going to be subjected to lawyered up responses from all those involved, trying to establish letter of the law actions in spite of moral obligation. Its going to be he said-he said as the courts try to settle the mess and find the truth. But I suspect that we already know what that truth is, that we all have been shammed, that people put in position of responsibility, shunned those responsibilities so they wouldnt kill the golden goose.

Penn State is going to stand for something different now.