Not So Happy Valley

I was just about to start writing, when this came from ABC News:

Legendary coach Joe Paterno said today that he is “absolutely devastated” by the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the school and announced that he will retire at the end of this season.

Paterno’s retirement after 46 years is the latest casualty of the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case,” Paterno, 84, said in a statement today. “I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.”

“This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more,” he said.

Paterno, who set a record this year as the winningest coach in top level college football ever, said it has been his intention to “serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care.”

“That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can,” Paterno said.

That ends the stellar career of the man who is… or at least was… the most loved, admired and respected person to ever live in Happy Valley.  And while I join the Penn State community in its anger, outrage and sense of betrayal over the news that came out this week, my most overwhelming emotion is sadness.  Deep, deep sadness.  And, frankly, disappointment: not only in those who were involved in the disgusting Sandusky case, but in the reactions of some in the community.

The thing that bothers me most (in addition, of course, to the evil that Jerry Sandusky allegedly visited on his victims) is the immediate blood lust in its wake.  By the way, I use the word “allegedly,” because as a newsroom veteran, I cannot bring myself to do otherwise until he has been tried and found guilty.  And after reading the 23 pages of the Grand Jury presentment, I have little doubt as to the veracity of the charges.  But I have read and heard comments from those who say that everyone from Tim Curley to Graham Spanier… and that includes Joe Paterno… should be “hanged.”  And that’s just not right.

Leaving Curley and Schultz aside (and in my opinion, the charges against them are fully justified,) let’s look for a moment at JoePa.  From all reports that have been made public, he did what he was supposed to do:  reported the accusations against Sandusky to his boss, Tim Curley.  Did he do more?  We don’t know.  Did he make an impassioned plea that something be done?  We don’t know.  Paterno did not witness the alleged assaults, so it would have been pretty difficult for him to make a police report.  He and Sandusky are public figures.  How, exactly, would he have gone public with what at the time were  unsubstantiated, third-person allegations?  Really, what should he have done?  What could he have done?

Do you know that JoePa didn’t have conversations with others?  He knew (or thought he knew) Sandusky very well.  If such a horrible accusation is made against someone you’ve known and worked with for years, wouldn’t it give you pause?  Is it so hard to accept that perhaps Joe Paterno couldn’t quite believe that his friend and colleague  of so many years had such an evil and dark side?

Why are some so quick to believe that this man, revered by so many people, could coldly and cynically aid in a cover-up to the detriment of the boys allegedly victimized by Jerry Sandusky?  That this man, to whom education came first, who personified character and imbued it in his players would really, through inaction, knowingly endanger these vulnerable young victims?  Do you really believe that?   I don’t.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a football fan.  You know that I have less knowledge about the game than probably any other sentient North American male.  But even I was proud of the Penn State Nittany Lions.  And during my time as an employee of Penn State… and now… I answer Penn State!  when someone says We Are…   My wife, whose daughters are all Penn State graduates, just put new Penn State stickers on her car a few weeks ago, even though we now live in North Carolina.

I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for Joe Paterno, and that respect and admiration is undiminished.  It will remain so until I have a solid reason to change my mind.   I do not extend that respect to Tim Curley or Gary Schultz, who actually could have done something.  And it would be proper for Graham Spanier to accept responsibility and hand his resignation to the Board of Trustees immediately.  It is only right that he should do so.

And Joe Paterno is doing the right thing by retiring at the end of this season.  But I hate to see him end such a glorious career under such an ugly cloud.  And I really think that those who have rushed to judge should take a deep breath, step back, and give it some thought.  Sometimes it seems that those who shout the loudest about what they would have done and what should have been done are trying to convince others, and perhaps themselves, of their own moral superiority.

No matter where we may be now, those of us who have lived in Happy Valley and been, even peripherally, part of the Penn State community, carry that with us with pride, and we always will.  We are hurt, angry and outraged.  But no purpose is served — the victims will not be helped — through an outpouring of misdirected hatred and vitriol.  Now, pull together, hold your head up, and show the world what being a Penn Stater is really about.  Do not let this define you, or Penn State.

Now and forever, remember:  We Are… Penn State.


15 thoughts on “Not So Happy Valley

  1. Steve, I agree completely about JoePa. Personally, I’d apply the same standard to President Spanier. We should wait for ALL the facts to come out. (Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and does not in any way reflect the position of The Pennsylvania State University.)

  2. Thank you, Steve, for saying this and saying it well – and in a calm and rational manner. Your thoughts are the same as mine. I truly feel that the “morally superior” should look in their own closets first before throwing stones.

  3. Thank you. My thoughts exactly. What kind of society have we become where we punish those who try to do the right thing. The blood thirty crowds and armchair jurors. have done the same thing to JoePa that Sandusky is alleged to have done. He’s another innocent victim.

  4. Thank you Steve. JoePa did what he was supposed to do… it to his boss. This is so sad that this is what will be remembered as JoePa retires. I did not go to Penn State but my family is from the area. We will always be Penn Staters and proud of the Nittany Lions.

  5. But was Jerry Sandusky… Penn State, to Joe…or… were WE?

    Yes; there are skeletons in everyone’s closet.

    Perhaps if more information eventually comes out as to what actually happened to Mr. Gricar though; we may one day fully come to understand just how close ‘FAMILY ties’ are and WHO IS PENN STATE?

  6. Thank you Steve well said!!! I grew up on State College and went to school in Happy Valley. I’ve always been so proud to come from State college and always will!!!! stay srong Joe we Love you and always will!!!!!

  7. Steve, your words are what have been said in our home since this all started. Thank you for putting ours and everone else that have replied to this,thoughts & words to print. Let the people do there jobs to get to the truth than take action on anyone who need it. JoePa & Sue have done so much for Penn State and will be missed when he goes. I want to see him leave with his head held high and I hope he will be remembered for all the good he has done & not this mess. Thank you again Steve. We Love you Joe.

  8. Thank you for your insight. Much needed at a time like this. I grew up in Happy Valley and despite the fact that I have been tremendously blessed, living there was not all perfect. Nothing ever is really….that said, the reality is that most everyone has a dark side however small that may be. Sadly some are truly evil as is the case with Sandusky….those quick to judge JoePa, etc. need to take a harder look at their own selves. i am amazed by some of these news commentators who exude such judgement….”here’s what i would have done” etc. when for one, we do not really even know all of the facts and secondly, “does a person ever really know what s/he would have done in this situation?” i think that all of this sadness and frustration needs to be redirected towards something good and greater. penn state should redirect funds (the ones that are left) towards an organization fostering awareness and protection for abused children…..the reality is that people everywhere and every single day turn their backs on things they may not want to believe or see……and this needs to stop!!! perhaps this is an opportunity to confront the truth. ironically, so many have viewed Happy Valley as this idyllic place and yet one of the most horrific crimes unfolded right there….it is shocking yes, but no surprise to me…things often are not what they seem. And so we need to take this opportunity to learn and transform the sorrow for the sake of those children that were harmed, the ones that are being harmed right now as i type and the crimes that may be averted in the future.

  9. Steve, I used to enjoy your column in State College Magazine, and you have once again written a piece that is very true to my heart. Well said.

  10. Steve – your sentiments are mine EXACTLY. I have been trying to say a lot of this to friends and colleagues as well. I am just amazed at the blood lust as you call it. Joe was and is CLASS – 100% – and he was the only person who had the guts to come out and make statements to the public and press when no one else at PSU was saying a word…plus he fired himself – but that was not good enough for the trustees – they mishandled the ‘snap’ big time. My heart goes out BIG TIME to all affected, esp. the victims of a MONSTER. Russ

  11. I have read the Grand Jury report, which I can’t believe is available to everyone, and the investigations haven’t set the world on fire with there timelyness. Yet the news is out there complaining about what Joe and McCreay should have done to protect these children. Read the report!

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