Penn State community far from healing

BY foxsports • November 12, 2011

It started with the candlelight vigil Friday night on the lawn at Old Main. At least 10,000 students quietly, with anger gone and rioting past, prayed for the boys who allegedly had been raped, sodomized, molested by one of Penn State’s own.

Mixed in, speakers said that this was what Penn State was about, no matter what the media say. And this somber moment ended with chanting:

“We are . . . Penn State. We are . . . Penn State. We are . . .’’

Honestly, that upset me at first. Exactly who do these students think the victims are, anyway? Themselves? In some ways, yes — to a lesser extent. Their world changed.

No one moment can define what is now left of Penn State. There is one long, stretch filled with images and sounds and every emotion. None of it has been sorted out yet. So before Saturday’s game, Nebraska players and Penn State players hugged at midfield and then prayed together.

“I was just asking God to heal this place,’’ said Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown, who led the prayer.

Healing. Penn State’s new president mentioned it, as did its new coach, Tom Bradley, and several players did, also. They felt this game, which Nebraska won 17-14, was the beginning of the healing process.

I’m sorry, but it was not. This is a patient that hasn’t even been fully diagnosed yet. It is lying on the table with an open wound in the emergency room while everyone frantically tries to figure out exactly what went wrong, and why.

Penn State is just going to have to carry this on every step of the journey, which could last years before the healing starts. This place has held itself, and its football program, to the highest, mythical level. And when a longtime assistant coach is arrested for the sick things he allegedly did with boys in the team showers?

One week of hell does not end in healing. God knows how long it will take for the boys who were allegedly attacked.

For the first time since 1949, Joe Paterno, who was fired Wednesday, was not the head coach, or an assistant, at a Penn State football game.

His son, Jay, now an assistant, called plays during the game. You think he is healing?

What would he like to say to his dad?

“Just how proud I am of him,’’ he said as he left the field. “Dad, I wish you were here. We love you.’’

He teared up and ran off.

Players said they were upset about Paterno’s firing, upset how it happened — by phone. But I asked: Do you want answers? Do you feel you deserve them?

Don’t they want to know what Jerry Sandusky really did in 2002, and other years? Why assistant Mike McQueary, who witnessed an alleged attack, didn’t save the boy? Why Paterno didn’t go to police?

“I would like to know,’’ offensive tackle Quinn Barham said. “I wouldn’t ask him (Paterno) personally.’’

Defensive tackle Devon Still said, “I feel like we need answers, and we’ll get answers when the time comes.’’

But should Paterno have been fired?

“I can’t even answer that question,’’ Still said. “There are a lot of things we don’t know about.’’

These players are in a fog. They are playing for Paterno and wondering, at the same time, what he did. They love him, respect him and want answers from him.

Not one player has spoken with him since he was fired.

The fog and conflicting thoughts apply to the students, too, who can’t even end a vigil for allegedly raped children without chanting about school pride. What a conflict. To be fair, their whole belief system has been undermined. They do feel victimized in some ways. They are human.

This whole idea of Happy Valley is a myth. But it’s one people believed in here. For years, they have graduated, and held chests out in pride over the virtue. Now, that’s gone.

One fan reportedly protested outside the stadium, with signs saying that all the coaches must have known what Sandusky was doing. Other fans cursed at him as they walked past.

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings when Penn State started making a late rally Saturday. They almost came back to win.

The players were showing courage. But how could you cheer for them? The football program had been built up too high, too strong. And efforts to protect it also protected a suspected child rapist. This reverence of football is part of what got us here in the first place. On the other hand, it wasn’t the players’ fault, and to some extent, they are victims, too.

Before the game, hundreds of fans crowded the Paterno statue outside the stadium to get pictures with it. Some people wore T-shirts that said they had a message for Paterno: Thank you.

A little blond boy threw a football in the parking lot with his dad.

An announcer intoned over the PA system to please show pride in the university and to respect “the purpose of today’s game.’’

“We didn’t know how the fans were going to support us,’’ defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. “There are a lot of mixed emotions. The first day was anger. The second day, everyone was very sad. The third day was more of a healing process.’’

I wish it were that easy.

Everyone in the stadium shared a moment of silence for victims of child abuse. Then, someone yelled something about being “as proud as you have ever been to be a Penn State fan. We are . . . Penn State. We are . . . Penn State. We are . . .’’

Five minutes before the game, it did not seem like the time to be cheering for football.

School President Rodney Erickson, who replaced Graham Spanier this week after Spanier was fired, said the school had received several letters and emails saying the game shouldn’t have been played at all. The pregame prayer at midfield, arranged Friday night, should have ended that talk. It was a moment of focus on the right things, of caring for the hurt boys, and doing it as a community.

At halftime, they showed a video of the seniors, and Paterno’s picture came up four times. The crowd cheered wildly each time. A few times throughout the game, fans started chanting for him.

Is that good and understandable? Or is it hurtful to the victims? Or both?

When it was over, Bradley talked about the healing process. One player told me he would like to talk with Paterno but will wait until Paterno is ready. His only contact with the team was a letter he sent Thursday, telling them to stay strong and focused.

Would the players be going to Paterno’s house after the game, as rumor had it, to offer support? They hadn’t decided yet.

They aren’t sure exactly how to act, where to step next. It isn’t easy to see through the fog.

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