Bonded in Blue, White, and Worry

It would have been too easy to acknowledge the events of this year with a brief sentence buried in an an otherwise self-indulgent senior column.

News of the child sexual abuse scandal broke with more force in State College than anywhere else in the country. There were certain and obvious ways in which this happened.

Graham Spanier, though still apparently an avid user of the Rec Hall facilities, is no longer the President of Penn Sate. Now we have a man who we think exemplifies the phrase virtus semper viridis occupying the south-east corner of the Presidential offices on Old Main’s second-floor.

Joe Paterno, longtime Penn State patriarch, suffered a similar fate, though without the favor of face-to-face confrontation that the aforementioned magician had been extended. Instead, with 409 wins to his name, he received a Gantergram with the name and number of a very highly-compensated accountant, who informed him tersely that the Board had unanimously decided, effective immediately, his coaching career was over.

And Jerry Sandusky went from local hero to national villain seemingly overnight, coincident with the beginning of a judicial process which will take much, much longer.

The aftershocks from this fall continue to reverberate around Happy Valley, and I suspect the worst may be yet to come.

Like I said in my previous post, history excites me because we are always getting a better sense of what happened. Here, I fear that sentiment is unraveling.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh is, to the best of my knowledge, conducting a deep and thorough investigation, with only the members of the special committee receiving regular briefs. But from what I’ve heard on backchannels, the findings are nothing to be pleased about. After decades of presidentially-orchestrated democratic centralism when it came to university governance, there is little chance that Freeh’s dredging will turn up no malfeasance.

As someone who thinks and feels deeply about this university, I have been consumed by this knowledge over the past few months. I truly believe the Freeh Report will shake Penn State to its core again, and I don’t know what we can do to prevent that. Here’s what I do know, though. We are more ready now for it than ever before.

Standing among Penn Staters, I feel like a soldier ready for battle. The past five months have solidified us as a community in a way I didn’t know was possible, or even preferable. From the organic #WeStillAre student movement to the unprecedented Athletics-organized #PSUCaravan, the Penn State community feels as if it is connecting with itself in more ways than ever before.

What was once a network of individuals with a shared interest is increasingly a network of individuals who share an interest in each other. We have found that while Joe Paterno might have inspired our love for Penn State initially — a manifestation of our values as I still believe he was — we now belong in a community bonded over much more than one man. We belong in a community bonded in a shared loved for the blue and white, but also a mutual worry about what comes next.

Unrecognized or ignored, this worry can be poisonous. It’s what causes us to turn on each other and believe the worst. It’s what provokes continued distrust in the President, the Board of Trustees, and other members of the administration. And it’s what makes us believe that Penn State’s best days are behind it.

I refuse to see it that way, though. In many ways, it pains me to leave Onward State mid-way through this difficult saga. Serving Penn State through Onward State and keeping the community informed has been the greatest honor of my college career, but I know the site will be in good hands going forward. Our younger staff, like me, revels in this worry.

They understand that before we can consider what happened here and return 100% of our focus to the university’s real mission of promoting research and relevant knowledge for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we must fully understand the situation. It is not weak or cowardly to be worried about these inevitable revelations, but we can’t let these fears shape our actions.

We are Penn State and we are bonded, now, in blue, white, and worry. The moment we forget that, who knows what will happen.