Nov. 10, 2011
I'm wearing one of my Penn State logo dress shirts to work today, not because I want to be a target of snickers or snide comments. I'm wearing my Penn State logo dress shirt to work today to honor the people at Penn State who still know how to do the right thing.
Last night, Penn State's Board of Trustees fired both university President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno. Although I'm sure we do not have all the details behind the alleged Jerry Sandusky sex scandal (and we may never have the whole story), I think the board did what had to be done.
Still, that does not mean I can't be on the verge of tears as I write this.
Joe Paterno was head coach throughout my undergraduate and graduate days at Penn State beginning back in 1967. I never met him, but we did pass in the halls of Rec Hall when I was there for a racquetball match and he still had an office in that building.
He was head coach when our oldest son, Brandon, went through Penn State starting in 2005.
Brandon had been selected as a "Free Spirit" by the Freedom Forum and attended a week-long journalism program in Washington, D.C., his senior year in high school. The Freedom Forum also honors adults. When Joe Paterno was named a "Free Spirit" the next year, Brandon wrote him a little note congratulating him from a fellow "Free Spirit." Brandon also thanked Paterno for making his freshman year at Penn State so special. That was the year Penn State football made a come back and almost had a shot at a national championship with the exception of a last-second loss at Michigan.
Paterno had responded to Brandon's note and invited Brandon to talk to him since both families vacationed at the same New Jersey seashore town. That talk never happened.
Once during a Penn State-Ohio State game, our youngest son Michael, who was then in sixth grade, said he hoped "JoePa" would still be coaching when he got to Penn State. I laughed then, thinking that would never happen, but it did. Michael is a sophomore at Penn State this year.
Last spring on the day of the annual inter-squad Blue and White game, Michael and a few of his friends somehow were walking to Beaver Stadium and, unbeknownst to them, were in front of Paterno's house when he pulled up in a white Mercedes. They pleaded with Paterno to pose for a photo with them and despite that fact that it was Blue and White game day and he was very busy, the old coach let them take the photo.
And so today I am sad. I am sad because the leadership of Penn State, Paterno included, has let me and every Penn State fan and alumni down. In an effort to perhaps protect a former assistant coach (obviously not worthy of protecting), and the football program, Paterno, Spanier and everyone else in the leadership chain of command, has placed a dark cloud over thousands and thousands of fans and alumni.
I am sad that Paterno's coaching career has had to come to such an end. I am sad that all the good this man has done for Penn State and college football will be overshadowed by a very bad decision to remain silent.
When I heard the decision to fire Paterno last night, I immediately lost all interest in attending this week's big football game with Nebraska. Suddenly it just didn't matter. Michael and I had planned to go to the game, but I called Michael and said I didn't think I wanted to go. Today, I've changed my mind. I need to be there Saturday as does every Penn State alumni in person or in spirit to show our support for the school, the board of trustees and a team that has had nothing to do with this terrible situation.
I am disappointed and saddened by all that has transpired these last few days, but I'm still proud to be a Penn State alumni. I hope Brandon, and eventually Michael when he graduates in two years, can feel the same way.
And that is why I wear my Penn State logo shirt to work today, because there are still people at Penn State who know how to do the right thing.
We are … Penn State.