After the stadium announcer welcomes the huge crowd to the “greatest show on earth” the Nittany Lion rushes out, orchestrating a roar from all four sections of Beaver Stadium.
That’s always a stirring moment for Penn State fans and with Nebraska in town, the place was expected to rock on Saturday. But that was before Nittany Nation became engulfed in the biggest scandal to ever hit college sports. In fact, the game in Happy Valley is the farthest thing from many people’s minds.
Just a week ago, we could never imagine seeing a picture Joe Paterno in a major newspaper, tagged with the word “Shame!” or a photo of the powerful Nittany Lion statue ... but with a tear running down its face.
Last night, the Penn State trustee board, which has been quiet for nearly a week after the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal broke, finally issued a statement, firing both Coach Paterno and PSU President Graham Spanier. Students rioted after the announcement, angered by the firing of their coaching legend and campus icon, not Spanier.
Yesterday, Dan Wetzel, an award-winning sportswriter from Yahoo! Sports, suggested Penn State should even consider canceling Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium. On first hearing that, I thought it was too drastic, but he backed it up with some good points.
While fans would be inconvenienced and the university would lose a ton of revenue in canceling the game, he pointed out that most people in this nation could care less about football.
Looking back on the dark events that have unfolded on campus, future generations will see archival footage of 107,000 people cheering in the stadium. What message is being sent with Penn State’s decision to play a football game in the middle of one of the biggest scandals and darkest chapters in collegiate history?
Many fans may argue that it’s time to move on, that playing a football game will help the university to heal. But move on or heal from what? This is an ongoing investigation and no one yet knows the scope of it – how PSU people were involved, or even the number of victims. So far, eight boys were named in the state grand jury presentment, but others are sure to step forward.
Other fans will argue that the current football team had nothing to do with the sins that were committed. Unfortunately, the whole university has been stained. A great many people consider the crime of deviate sexual abuse of children on a par with murder and that playing a football game – or even attempting to honor Paterno in the midst of an ongoing investigation – is another slap in the face of the victims.
Even though it would be a logistical and ticketing nightmare, one option might have been to reschedule and move the game to another venue, away from campus and the shadows of Beaver Stadium, where much of Sandusky’s despicable behavior with young boys allegedly occurred.
An interesting part of Nittany Lion history involves the slogan “We are Penn State.” The 1948 football team included Wally Triplett, the school’s first African-American varsity starter.
Before the Lions were to play Southern Methodist in the Cotton Bowl that year, rumors circulated that SMU officials wanted a meeting to announce it would not play the game if Triplett was allowed on the field. Guard Steve Suhey responded with: “We Are Penn State. There will be no meetings.”
That response to segregation was an inspiration to millions, a glorious chapter at PSU which transcended the game itself. If ever there was a time for that kind of leadership to once again surface at the university, it’s now.
By Jim Zbick