Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Yesterday, I removed two posts I had written about the problems at Penn State. I mentioned in yesterday's post that I had removed them, and gave a brief reason why I'd done so. My friend Ollie replied to yesterday's post with a nice comment:

"Actually, I wish that you'd repost those articles you wrote about Penn State. While your assessment about the "smug writers" is correct, the solution is to have more sane, thoughtful voices, not fewer."

So, I'm putting both posts into this one post. My apologies to my friend Jeff, whose comment on my first post seems to be forever gone.

I forget the exact days that I posted them, but both were posted last week, in the first week or so of the scandal. They are listed below in the order I originally posted them.

Shatter the Illusion of Integrity

I woke up this morning with Rush's song "The Spirit of Radio" in my head. I don't know why. I don't think I've heard it recently. But, as I thought about the song, and the sad events at Penn State over the last week, it seemed to make some sense to me.

For the most part here, I write about me - what I do, what I think, what I want to do. It's my blog, so I guess I have that right. Most of what I write is about workouts, races, skiing, and every once in a while, a political comment. Today's post is deeply personal and written with a heavy heart.

Last Saturday, as I was watching college football, news started to break out of Penn State about indictments and truly heinous acts by a former Penn State coach. At first, it seemed like one bad apple, and perhaps some higher ups who didn't follow through on their legal obligations. But, as we all know now, it was way more than that. And, despite everything we seem to know, I wonder if it's still going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

This will probably be a long rambling post. First of all, if I get a fact or two wrong, please forgive me. And secondly, if any sentence here sounds like I'm support the people in power at Penn State, it's unintentional. I simply cannot support the people who have lost their jobs in any way.

But, let's go back to the beginning. I grew up in PA, born in 1962, four years before Paterno became head coach. I remember a Christmas day bowl game for PSU where my grandmother was horrified that my dad would turn on football on Christmas. I remember Art Schlichter, a star football recruit for Ohio State, throwing the ball to Penn State defenders repeatedly in his first big game - or maybe it was his first ever game. I believe Penn State beat Bert Jones in the Sugar Bowl before Jones went on to replace Unitas in Baltimore. By the time I was 10 or 11, my parents took me to Penn State's spring football game - the Blue and White game. I paid $1 that day to join the Nittany Lion Club. After the 1976 season, I cobbled together $65 for a ticket and my share of expenses to go to the Sugar Bowl, where Penn State lost to Alabama in a heartbreaking 14-7 loss. Somewhere, I still have the pom poms given to us by the Penn State cheerleaders before that game. While in college, I remember trekking from Bucknell to Penn State with my best friend and a little bit of money, hoping to score a cheap ticket to the game against Maryland. We got into the game in the middle of the first quarter. I remember seeing Booker Moore break his leg in a home game. I remember being disappointed when PSU kicked a late field goal against Cincinnati in a blowout game at Beaver Stadium. I think the field goal may have put them over 50, but it didn't matter and it seemed tacky. I remember seeing Pitt blow out Penn State while I was a grad student at Penn State in 1984. I've seen Penn State play many games at Beaver Stadium. I've seen them play in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl. I've seen them play at Brigham Young and at Boston College. I've watched 100s of games on TV. I remember Mike McQueary having a huge breakout game against Minnesota, throwing 4 or 5 TD passes in one game. Greg Garrity's catch. The Giftopoulos interception. Two national championships. Curt Warner outrushing the Heisman winner in consecutive bowl games (Walker and Allen, I believe) The Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma and Jamielle Holloway - John Shaffer's only loss. I've seen Penn State beat Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State in person. I was there the day Penn State lost 6-4 to Iowa, when Iowa took a deliberate safety and dared PSU to score a field goal. Three straight losses to Nebraska, Iowa and Cincinnati to start their national title defense in 1983.

I guess it's in my blood. I've been to a game as recently as a month ago. I had hoped to go the game this coming weekend, but ticket prices were too high for me.

In my life, I have to say I've had three people I've admired as father figures. First is my father-in-law, a wonderful man who is the same age as Joe and got his PhD at Penn State while Joe was an assistant. The former head athletic trainer at Bucknell, Edgar "Hal" Biggs taught me a lot, put up with some lapses on my part, and was the first ever adult to treat me like another adult. And of course, even though I never met him, there was JoePa. Integrity. Honesty. Succeeding the right way. And even when they lost, fans still had his morals to lean on. No excessive celebrations on the field. No fancy uniforms. "When you get to the end zone, don't dance, but act like you've been there before and expected to be there".

And in a few days, it's all been shattered. I'm left in despair. I've read the indictment. I don't see how McQueary (who I thought might be the next head coach) or Paterno can feel they did the moral thing. People were hurt. Badly. People were hurt long after it should have been stopped.
I'm so sad for those boys. So ashamed of the apparent complicity. I feel like I've been stabbed in the heart.

Which leads to the illusion of integrity:

Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free
All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted.
Not so coldly charted, it's really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty.
One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity.

For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall,
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen.

Yeah, the song is about how industry and money ruin radio and music, and how fans can rob the artists as well, but it seems to apply here as well.

The gift of Penn State football, almost free if you chose to watch it on TV and simply enjoy.

Honesty here applies to the consumers, but in reality, it was people at Penn State who showed a lack of honesty.

Glittering prizes, endless compromises, profits, salesmen.

To me, the illusion of integrity has always been that now. I know that 60+ years of hopefully doing the right thing isn't erased, but it's tarnished beyond recognition. And Penn State fans are left to grieve. I do hope that the grief is about the pain inflicted upon a cadre of young boys. There will be plenty of time later to grieve for the football team and university.

Right now, I haven't missed watching, attending, or listening to a single Penn State game for years. This Saturday, I honestly have no interest in what happens on the field. I'm very curious how the fans in the stands will act, and curious if the players will be able to find a way to even care. But, I'm not sure I'm curious enough to even watch.

(Post-script to this post: I did watch the game and I'm glad I did. While I found the pre-game mid-field prayer a bit contrived, it was nice to see the honest emotions of fans caught on TV. Along with the 100,000+ fans with tears in their eyes, I'm sure there were many, many more people at home affected the same way.)

Biggest Sports Scandal Ever

My wife and I were discussing the concept of big sports scandals last night. Almost everything we could think of came down to cheating for one of two purposes - to win unfairly or to make money.

Overage pitchers in the Little League World Series
Point shaving in college basketball
Stealing signs in the 1951 NL pennant race
Steroids in (insert your sport/event here)
Officials in the 1972 Olympic basketball finals
A bizarre case of two horses whose owner did an "identity switch"
The infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox
Betting on sports where you are involved (Pete Rose and an NBA official)
Riding the subway to a Boston Marathon victory
Knee-capping a figure skating opponent
Bribery to get the Olympics or World Cup
Stealing a corked bat from the umpires' locker room
Doctoring the baseball (Yes, you, Doug Drabek)

So, who lost in each of the examples above? Obviously, truth, integrity, honesty, whatever you want to call it, took a big hit. Gamblers (legal and illegal) were affected. Pride. Egos.

To all of that, I say (trepidatiously) "So What?"

None of those can compare, in my opinion, to hiding a pervert in your midst, and even worse, giving the pervert access to his victims and a location to commit his crimes.

Some people think that the NCAA will never again use the death penalty in a sport, as they did for the SMU football team in the 1980s. There is so much money to be made in college football, especially with a team that is on TV every week and sells out the third biggest stadium in the country regularly.

But, if there was a cover-up, if there is evidence that Penn State covered for Sandusky in any way, or evidence of wrongdoing shows up related to a missing prosecutor (search the name Ray Gricar and see what you think), Penn State might deserve the death penalty.

It's hard to imagine that Beaver Stadium could sit empty for a few years, but perhaps it would be appropriate.

There have been rumors in State College for a few months that Urban Meyer has interviewed at PSU and even bought a house in Boalsburg. But, why would he want that job now?

Just like the Catholic Church, the term "fall from grace" seems so appropriate.

And remember, I'm a fan. This isn't an opinion from an Ohio State fan who thinks that Tressel and Hayes were treated badly. I have to admit that I loved those guys going down.

The word schaudenfreude seems so apropos. (German and French in the same sentence!)

Thanks for the comment Ollie!


Jeff Farbaniec said...

I'm with Ollie. Glad you re-posted. Don't worry about my previous comment disappearing.

Sparkplug said...

I think it is good to have thoughtful insight into a story/scandal such as this. I thought your posts were well written. Glad you re-posted.

Harriet said...

I too am glad that you reconsidered.


janinsanfran said...

Glad you put these up. Our fan attachments are very much part of how we try to make sense of an incomprehensible world. In a very different but related vein, I recommend this article about a liberal coming to terms with the Tebow phenomenon.

Be well.