State College After The Scandal

The question now for the folks in my (Ben’s) hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, is where do we go next. I have continued to follow the developments involving Jerry Sandusky and the sex abuse scandal with morbid, guilt-ridden curiosity: I am sickened but I can’t look away. I read updates for an hour or so every night and then feel heavy with the weight of them. I listen to the excerpts from Sandusky’s disastrous Monday night interview with Bob Costas (who did an excellent job demonstrating how a professional interviewer conducts himself). I wonder what it will be like the next time we visit “home,” and how a community that has always identified itself with the university and, specifically, the football program — We Are Penn State — will find a new identity in the wake of all this.

No easy answers anywhere. But there have been some helpful things for me to read. If you have also been compelled by this sad saga, you may find some insight and perspective in these links:

  • John Amaechi, a 1995 Penn State grad (and my high school graduation speaker to boot), reflects on what it will take for Penn State to heal and move forward. “I will never forget or regret going to Penn State,” he says, adding, “I have great affinity for a place that helped me become who I am.” Amaechi also talks about his volunteer work for The Second Mile, lamenting that his and other athletes’ involvement were part of the draw for at-risk kids to get involved with the program.
  • Joe Posnanski, a columnist for Sports Illustrated, writes about “The End of Paterno” (h/t Scott Guldin and Emily Huie) and offers a note of perspective about the rush to judgment from many commentators on the scandal — “a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill,” as he puts it. Posnanski’s situation is a bit more complicated than most — he was already in the process of writing a book about Paterno when this all unfolded — but he writes about it with typical lucidity and insight while acknowledging that the real scandal was not Paterno losing his job or having his legacy tarnished. It took many sports writers a while to find this same context and footing. (ESPN’s ombudsman’s take here.)
  • Ben McGrath of The New Yorker sits in on Penn State’s “JoePa class” — Comm 497g: Joe Paterno, Communications, and the Media — and observes that “it seems clear that the national media and the campus have been engaged in two essentially separate conversations, almost from the start.”
  • Finally, Michael Weinreb, who grew up in State College and went to Penn State, writes for Grantland about going home last weekend. “In State College,” he says, “we liked to think we looked after each other, and then we found out that some of the most prominent members of our community had failed to look after helpless children, and because of our lifelong emotional attachments we now feel like we are being branded as complicit in these crimes.” That pretty well sums it up for me.

3 thoughts on “State College After The Scandal

  1. Ben – I love this perspective from you. I have been drawn into this story despite my best efforts not to pay attention because it is so disturbing (especially as a new father of a son like you). The aspect of the story that has me most interested is the role, coverage, and reaction to Mike McQueary. I can’t stop thinking about how I would react to walking in to find that happening and how I would have reacted when I was McQueary’s age. I haven’t reached any conclusions except to say I believe it is really easy for people to destroy McQueary and his perceived inaction without considering the full sequence. At the same time I want to believe that I would have taken every step necessary to guarantee the safety of that young boy.

    This case has so many aspects to it from a legal, personal, and community standpoint it really is remarkable. I think of how little Oxford, OH would have handled a similar situation (though the football program and Paterno have no parallel in Oxford). The college bubble is a wonderful place to exist until it bursts.

    Please keep the posts coming… Though you probably don’t enjoy writing or thinking about this I enjoy reading your thoughts.

    ps I am no criminal attorney but how do you let your client do that interview?

  2. Mike McQueary was also a State High grad — he was a senior when I was a freshman — and everyone in town (meaning all my PSU friends and I) dreaded the years he was Penn State’s starting quarterback (96 and 97) because we knew he’d be adequate at best. He did not disappoint.

    It’s very easy to armchair quarterback what we’d do in his situation — imagining any of us would be in the hellish position of walking in on a grown man raping a young boy in a shower — and I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who would stop it and then maybe pummel Sandusky to within an inch of his life. We all would. But who knows for sure what you would do?

    All that said, it certainly doesn’t help your case to say you made a statement to the police about the incident and then have the police — both State College police and University Park (PSU) police — say they have no such thing on record. I keep wanting someone who was actually involved with this scandal — not someone coming in from the outside — to own up to what they did or didn’t do and accept accountability for it. I’m still waiting.

    As for Sandusky’s defense attorney, I probably would not have let my client agree to such a damning interview. I also wouldn’t have gotten a 17 year old pregnant when I was 49 either. But that’s just me.

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