On Culture and #Culture
Let’s take another look at Penn State’s football culture. We’re crazy about football, and we have been for a long time. It’s got a very high profile, and that’s how most people know us, more than, say, our excellent academics or world-class research or anything else. Penn State’s culture “problem” isn’t really any different from any other big state school with a high-profile athletic program. Hell, Alabama built a statue of Nick Saban on campus in 2011, after just four years of coaching there.
Maybe we take our rivalry with Ohio State very seriously. Maybe we mentally check out of a Friday afternoon class to wonder about which quarterback is going to start Saturday, or think about what supplies we need for this weekend’s tailgate. It’s exciting, and it’s a good way for a lot of us to come together and blow off steam and rally around Penn State. I think it’s great that starting October 1, Penn State will conduct a survey (through the independent Ethics Resource Institute) to really take the pulse of the real culture here. Regardless of whether there’s a problem or not, it’s never a bad idea to step back and reevaluate.
We are fanatical fans, and that’s not a bad thing. For the most part, we know where we stand on priorities. So here’s the difference between culture and #culture: The real problem comes in when we have to use every bit of resources to prove that we don’t have a “culture problem.” When THON raises over $12 million for kids fighting cancer and you turn around and say, “Hey, Emmert! What culture problem?” you’re proving their point. Any time you refuse to take a step back and look at our own culture, for whatever reason, we’re proving their point. When you refuse to support a worthy cause because of a perceived “apology” and spite, you’re proving their point. Any time a student, student-athlete, professor, or researcher makes great strides and major accomplishments, and you take it all as cannon fodder to sling at the NCAA (#culture), you’re devaluing that person’s accomplishment, taking away its intrinsic value, and you’re proving their point. When overall donations to the University (you know, the school) decrease and football giving goes up 500%, you’re proving their point. When you boycott games or Penn State altogether, when you divide and polarize the fan base, that’s not even football culture; that’s just downright antagonistic.
So, to those who think that “Sweet Caroline” is a non-issue: it wasn’t…until people on the Board of Trustees—namely Barbara Doran and Ted Brown—who could be dealing with our university’s second-highest tuition costs in the nation or getting increasingly shafted on state appropriations and ensuring that kids get a great Penn State education, bog down those important issues with football fan complaints about a Neil Diamond song from 1969 disappearing from Beaver Stadium. But what’s more, it’s ludicrous if you think the Board of Trustees had anything to do with “Sweet Caroline” being pulled from the gameday program, and even more so if you think it’s their responsibility to dictate the gameday entertainment. This relentless crusade to restore the tradition to the football program is not the business of the Board of Trustees, and, as a student, a gross and insulting waste of time and resources that could be better spent on improving the university for myself and for others.
What doesn’t prove their point is accepting certain changes that happened, accepting what went wrong, accepting the consequences with grace, and when necessary, civil disagreement, and keeping on playing to the best of our ability despite the odds. It might not be fair, it might be really unfortunate, but this is exactly what Bill O’Brien was able to do with the team in 2012. In the long run, football and the NCAA really aren’t that important. Have they really affected your life that much anyway? So keep on cheering for the Nittany Lions, keep on singing the Alma Mater and fighting on to victory. But when we obsess, making everything amount to a political statement directed at the Board of Trustees or the NCAA, then we’ve taken all the fun and innocence out of Saturday afternoons, and lost sight of who we are.