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Penn State Riot and Joe Paterno fallout sums up mindset of "Happy Valley"

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Pride in your alma mater is as much a part of Americana as blue jeans and apple pie. We wear our school’s colors, contribute to its coffers, and wildly cheer for the success of its athletic teams.  

But the fallout from the Penn State child-sex scandal  suggests the mindset in Happy Valley is more cult than fandom.  Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky

I didn't attend Penn State University so I readily admit I don’t know what the Kool-Aid tastes like. But I wonder if I had, would I offer the excuses members of the blue/white family are spewing? Would I be outraged by Joe Paterno’s firing  like they are? Would I see him as the victim in this awful mess as they do, part of some conspiracy to bring down The Messiah?  They act as sheep but their flock has lost all meaningful perspective.  

There were chants of “we want Joe,” and “one more game,” by the student body last night and the riot police needed to quash public unrest. There is a feeling of genuine anger throughout a large contingent of Penn State supporters because Paterno’s career isn’t getting a proper eulogy.       

What am I missing?  Shouldn’t all our sympathies lie with the alleged victims and their families?  Can’t we recognize JoePa’s dismissal isn’t the real tragedy here?  How have the people allegedly assaulted by Jerry Sandusky  become part of the backdrop when they must carry the largest burden?          

Soon, the lynch mob will focus their wrath on wide receiver coach Mike McQueary, but it won’t be because he failed to respond to a child under duress. Although that is what Paterno’s apologists and defenders want you to believe.  

No, McQueary is in trouble with the Penn State parishioners because his actions allowed outsiders to probe the entire congregation.  If he had just done something about what he says he saw in that shower, the program and JoePa might have been able to survive the scandal.  Like Judas to Jesus, he will forever be known to Happy Valley as the man most responsible for destroying the empire and its leader.  It seems Sandusky is almost an afterthought.   

It will take years before McQueary’s role in this is forgiven.  His Penn State career is likely over and even after time passes, his next job won’t be on the sidelines. It wouldn’t surprise me if he and his family move far away from State College.  McQueary is a pariah now, a man covered with warts.      

Still, this ugly episode illustrates what happens when a man holds limitless power but doesn’t have anyone telling him when he’s wrong.  Paterno has been a polarizing symbol of what is right for 46 seasons but he isn’t perfect. He was simply skilled at creating the illusion he is and his herd still can’t fathom why he’s gone.   

 



The Nittany-Lions have one of the largest alumni associations in the country, and it's because membership in their clan offered a link to perceived wholesomeness and decency. How many times have your friends and colleagues from Penn State reminded you about the program’s cleanliness?  Did you ever notice the wry smile and sanctimonious preaching you received every time some other football program found itself humiliated by corruption?  

Thankfully, the rest of us are different. We've figured out the disparity between a cathedral and a football stadium. We understand the false narrative major collegiate athletics is. Our lives have more proportion and context. We like our teams and in many instances the men and women who coach them, but we know our God doesn't wear black Nikes with white socks. 

Nittany-Lion followers can shout from the rooftops about Mike McQuery’s role.  They can say Paterno acted according to the law and isn’t under any investigation.  But what is undeniable is their culpability in JoePa becoming a walking deity. And it is their collective worship of him that ultimately led to the end of his reign.   

Virtually every fall Saturday since 1966 Penn State University and its following took communion. They happily accepted a wafer of innocence and drank the wine of sacredness. And for more than 40 years the results matched the message.    

This Saturday however, they must fend for themselves because the greatest college football coach of all time won’t be there to tell them how to think.  

Let’s see if they can function without him.       

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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