The Penn State student rioters flipped over a news van, broke car windows and tore down lamp posts. And when police tried to stop them, they started to throw rocks.
But their rage wasn’t directed at Joe Paterno, the man who did absolutely nothing after learning his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was seen raping a 10 year old boy in a campus shower. Instead, they were angry at the board of trustees for dismissing him.
And it is this ethically backwards reaction from the student body that shows the moral vacuum within the Penn State campus carved by the football program.
And perhaps what is the greatest indication of their loss of sensibility is their blind eye toward the other man caught in the scandal. The students paid no regard to the resignation of Penn State president Graham Spanier — whose academic contributions towards school far outweigh the meaningless football victories under Joe Paterno. Nevertheless, their university president was politically expendable.
According to the unwritten manifesto found within the mind of every Penn State student, the football program is highly sacred. To them, anyone can take the blame for the scandal except the man who coached their football team and gave them an excuse to drink during Saturday morning tailgates.
So at long last, the real Penn State rears its ugly head. Behind a veneer of scholarship is just a football program that hands out academic degrees on the side. And this pervasive cult obsession with their football program has bred a campus reaming with full-time sports fans and part-time students.
It is nauseating to think that Penn State students would throw their support behind a man who did nothing after a graduate assistant coach reported witnessing the rape of a 10 year old boy in the locker room showers by another staff member. And it is even more reprehensible how quickly these students have forgiven him and moved on.
And though JoePa, as he is endearingly referred to as by his loyal followers, knew of the sordid incident, he did nothing to prevent the monster from continuing his sexual abuse rampage. The child molester remained at Penn State for another nine years, free to continue his abuse. By the end of it, Sandusky allegedly abused a total of eight boys, some as young as seven and none older than 13 at the time of the assaults, according to the grand jury report. And now, it appears that additional victims have come forward.
But these sickening revelations didn’t evoke shame in the Penn State community. They didn’t even conjure any immediate remorse. Instead, the campus responded with selfish fervor, uniting behind their coach in a cowardly attempt to salvage their university’s brand, or what little was left of it.
Still despite these unforgivable crimes, no justice was served. While JoePa can comfortably hide behind his invertebrate supporters, the victims and their families must live in the horror of their inerasable pasts. While JoePa is rewarded with praise and a lucrative salary package — he’s the highest paid employee at Penn State, raking in more than $1 million in 2008 — vindication for the victims was swept underneath the raucous fans and ticket sale revenues.
For the students and the senior staff, the football program and its guardian must be saved above all else, an ultimate reversal of right and wrong. When JoePa gave his farewell speech to the football team, he didn’t repent for his grave moral infractions. Instead, he told to the team to beat Nebraska, referring to their upcoming weekend game. And when that weekend finally came, 100,000 Penn State fans arrived on game day as they always did. Some wore shirts proclaiming “Joe Knows Football.” Some held signs declaring “JoePa, Lion King Forever.” Some even dressed in grey sweat pants and glasses in his honor. And so everything at Penn State continued as usual as if no one was hurt and no crime was committed.
But Penn State will not be able to move on as usual. Thanks to a few old men who traded all their decency to preserve their favorite pastime, Penn State will forever have a dark mark attached to its name. But it still can show the rest of us that it is willing to repent and regain some of its integrity.
If the Penn State community possesses even a modicum of morality and humanity, it will shun the very cancerous entity that began these atrocities fifteen years ago: its $70 million a year football industry.
“May no act of ours bring us shame,” sings one of the lines of Penn State’s alma mater. Let’s see if they live by their words.
Steven Zhang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bigger Picture appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.