Keeping up with the headlines is a nauseating practice. Trying to digest them is nearly impossible.
Over the last nine months, we’ve watched in horror as detail after grueling detail has gushed from State College like an unstoppable flow of fast-moving sewage. These details have triggered feelings of anger, pain, confusion, and bewilderment to most everyone who learned of them. In fact, that completely human, natural reaction is the reason most people have such strong feelings toward this tragedy. Anger, pain, confusion, and bewilderment is what you're supposed to feel when you learn there’s a monster lurking among you, and the fact that Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Joe Paterno ignored those moral instincts in favor of cowardly inaction is an appalling injustice, second only to Sandusky’s disgusting acts themselves.
The brutality of the events push us past the point where we try to comprehend how men could do such things toward an anger that leaves no room for sympathy toward the guilty.
The danger there is that sometimes, we confuse ourselves on who "the guilty" really are.
It’s easy to associate a significant story involving a small group of people to a much larger subject, whether that subject is a community, university, or city. Debating whether that’s fair or not isn’t the question -- it’s human nature to make those parallels in our minds -- but moving forward, Penn State will always be associated with Jerry Sandusky’s pedophilia and the administrations ensuing cover up.
What we can’t allow to happen is unjustifiably directing the natural anger we feel toward the people we naturally associate this story with.
It’s already starting. Fans of rival schools have labeled the university "Ped State" (or worse), which isn’t fair to a lot of good people in that community. It isn’t fair to the professors who couldn’t name the starting quarterback of the football team if their life depended on it, but would rather tell you how long and hard they work to educate their students to the best of their abilities. It isn’t fair to the small businesses in State College who depend so desperately on Penn State football to put food on the table for their troubled families -- families that at one time sent their children to the safe-harbour we all thought the Second Mile charity represented.
It’s not fair to the traveling Penn State fans who will be visiting your school’s football stadium in a few short months.
It’s not hard to imagine members of the home team’s crowd hurling insults toward their blue and white clad visitors. This isn’t true for most of us, but unfortunately every fanbase has that underbelly they’re ashamed of -- the kind of people who send death threats to a tight-end who dropped a pass that could’ve won their team a game.
It’s especially not hard to imagine some of these types of folks showing their ugliest colors if a game turns in favor of the home team this fall, allowing a mocking tone to morph what should be a sporting event into something that makes Penn State fans -- or even the players themselves -- feel unsafe while being horribly outnumbered.
In what event over the last year makes a completely innocent fan or player deserving of that? Frankly, there isn’t one.
It’s hard when we, as outsiders, watch some members of the Penn State community struggle with accepting the flaws of their idol. We’ll visit their message boards and view the comments in PSU related articles and scratch our heads trying to figure out how anyone is still trying to defend Joe Paterno’s actions (or inaction, depending on how you look at it). For some, that’s the only green light they need to launch their misguided insults toward a fan base at large. Those insults seem even more appropriate when ignorance in its truest form is displayed by a few of JoePa’s apologists.
But what those people don’t see in the comments section of these articles are the Penn State fans that are so ashamed of the man they once idolized that they don’t bother commenting. What you don’t see is a natural step in a process like this where fans deny their idols’ sins before time gives them the perspective we as "outsiders" have been granted. Defining a legacy isn’t an exact science, and for some it takes a little longer to come around to the obvious conclusions.
You might think that’s stupid, but I’d argue it would be equally ignorant for anyone to counter that with a dark, pandering response.
Because all of us -- Penn State fans and non-Penn State fans alike, are working to process and heal from this. Part of that process will involve escaping the world for three hours on a Saturday afternoon while watching a football game. And when Penn State fans and players visit our stadiums this fall, no one should ridicule them for something they had nothing to do with. We should welcome them and aid them in their process to move forward. Little do we know, some of Sandusky’s victims -- most of them admitted Nittany Lion fans -- might be among us, looking for that escape as well. The last thing you’d want to scream at them would be a mocking comment like "We Are. Ped State."
In short, when Penn State comes to town -- be it Columbus in two years or to *any* stadium nationally, encourage healing, not hate-filled banter. Anything to the contrary is a roadblock in a recovery process that everyone involved is working through.