Penn State Alum Pens Book Highlighting Football Players Who Weathered Post-Sandusky Storm
Penn State Bellisario College of Communications alum and former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Collegian Chris Raymond will soon debut his tell-all book about the Penn State football program in the wake of the Sandusky Scandal.
“Men In White: The Gutsy, Against-All-Odds Return of Penn State Football” will land on bookstore shelves on August 13, 2024. Raymond’s book will tell the story of how Penn State football was rebuilt from uncertainty and possible collapse using the stories of players who stuck with the program in the immediate aftermath of the scandal.
From working for ESPN The Magazine to being a sports writer with GQ, Raymond’s choice of writing a book about his alma mater’s football program now seems almost inevitable. With his career cemented in his love for college sports, Raymond made a living doing what many would consider a dream.
Hailing from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Raymond was an avid Penn State fan growing up, and when it came to start thinking about applying to schools, he submitted his application to Penn State right away. He did admit, though, that his interest in the university was mostly because of his close following of the football program.
“For a decision that was made in haste in that way, it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life,” Raymond said.
Like his college selection process, Raymond also knew that he liked to work with words and that journalism was where he wanted to focus his energy.
“Long story short, I got to campus, registered for my classes, and wanted to get involved with The Collegian as quickly as I could,” Raymond said.
Raymond’s opportunity to work in the sports division of The Daily Collegian is where he developed his love for sports journalism, and his experience there went on to shape his future career. Eventually making his way up the ladder as managing editor and later editor-in-chief, Raymond found himself, almost overnight, making decisions about editorials and budgeting for The Daily Collegian.
“In the course of one night, I went from being this guy who worked on sports the whole time, a little bit as managing editor, to being editor of the entire paper,” he explained. “I did OK in my classes, but the education I got was working daily on the student paper there.”
Between his journalism degree and his experience as editor-in-chief, Raymond also served as editor of a tabloid magazine covering Penn State football.
“That’s really where I had the chance to play with the magazine format,” Raymond said. “The stories aren’t timed to yesterday or today, they’re a little more forward.”
Searching for an opportunity to move to longer-term projects beyond the news or daily sports, Raymond found inspiration in working with the magazine format. He quickly learned he could tackle larger issues in his writing if he worked for a magazine.
“I wanted to look into something more issue-oriented and do more long-range stuff. That was magazines,” Raymond said.
Upon graduating from Penn State, Raymond entered the workforce confidently and kept his experiences from Happy Valley in his back pocket. With his experience in editing a magazine in mind, Raymond took his first job at Esquire Magazine.
“My first job, believe it or not, was literally to type the manuscripts into the computer network at Esquire,” Raymond said. “Each word that appeared in the magazine kind of went through my fingertips.”
Raymond highlighted his work at Esquire as more of a learning experience rather than a means to make money and pay off his degree. While there, the author worked alongside titans of industry like Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese.
For Raymond, though, working at a publication where the written word was king was something he valued.
“There was not a caption, a headline, or a subhead that people didn’t pour over and put a lot of thought into,” Raymond said. “It was really like getting a master’s degree in writing, reporting, and editing.”
While at Esquire, an editor for Hearst Magazines, Esquire’s owner, asked Raymond about joining a potential ESPN magazine project.
“It meant that I got in on the ground floor of ESPN The Magazine,” he said. “I was the college football and college basketball editor for [ESPN The Magazine]. I kinda got to create my own dream job.”
Because he worked on the project from the very beginning, Raymond said that the job “was like getting a lesson in the business of magazines.”
For Raymond and the team at ESPN The Magazine, finding a voice for the publication with Sports Illustrated as a major player in the market was a tricky balancing act that they had to nail with their first issue.
“We were kind of going to be like that uncle or cousin that you sit down and talk sports with. It tends to be a younger voice and loving sports for a certain reason,” he said.
With ESPN The Magazine, Raymond saw firsthand how much work was involved in starting a publication from the ground up. For Raymond and the team, creating a compelling publication on a biweekly release cycle was challenging because they couldn’t cover the day-to-day games.
“We had to think about how to preview what people were going to see. It was a forward spin to the magazine,” Raymond said.
Raymond also touched on the issue of photography, explaining that, at the time, Sports Illustrated had some of the greatest sports photographers in the industry under contract and were unavailable for ESPN to use with their own magazine content. This sticky situation would eventually lead to the team’s decision to create a large-format magazine as a compromise, a sports magazine more akin to the size of Rolling Stone.
Eventually, Raymond left ESPN The Magazine as features editor to work at GQ with Art Cooper, a Penn State connection of Raymond’s that initially went unrealized when he first entered the industry seven years earlier.
“It was a magazine I had always read and always loved, and it was a chance to go back to where the words really matter — a magazine where you get to work with the best writers in the business,” Raymond said.
At GQ, Raymond said he was provided the opportunity to work with some of the best writers in the business that continued to develop both excellence and his love for sports journalism even further.
Not long after joining GQ’s staff, Cooper retired from the industry and Raymond was soon looking at other opportunities elsewhere. Raymond ended up in ESPN’s print division and managed its projects rather than returning to the magazine.
There, he learned the business side of print, which included a focus on sales and selling books, rather than a sole focus on the writing itself.
“You can come up with the best idea in the world…and so much of it comes down to where in the bookstore your book ends up,” Raymond said.
The lessons he learned in marketing and managing sales for ESPN in print would, eventually, help guide his decisions to write a book of his own.
“It obviously helped me when it came time to pitch my own book,” he explained.
With ESPN, Raymond helped oversee print projects like the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia and a decent-selling profile on a professional football team, the Pottsville Maroons. Raymond even worked with John Ed Bradley to turn a piece into a Sports Illustrated bestselling memoir, “It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium: Football and the Game of Life.”
“That’s really where I saw how well a college football book could do,” Raymond said.
Raymond noted that there were a lot of challenges to finding a topic for a book that was both compelling and something that could also convince a publisher was worth the risk.
“I knew that when I started looking at the proposal for the book… I wanted to look at those players who decided to stay when they didn’t have to and see what happens,” Raymond said. “I wondered if I could take a look at that in 2012 and connect the dots to 2016 when they win the Big Ten Championship.”
“At the end of the day, if you throw all that Paterno did out, it’s going to be a tragedy… I saw how much people in the state believed in the program and in winning the right way,” he continued. “To lose all of that because of the crimes of one evil man like Sandusky would be a huge tragedy.”
From a team handicapped by sanctions to a 2016 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, Raymond knew that the story of the “Men In White” needed to be told.
“It was a great story about players who thought they had weathered the storm,” Raymond said. “After the scandal breaks… Bill O’Brien comes in and they think the ship has been righted, and then in July, the NCAA…[hands] down sanctions.”
Raymond talked about how players on the team were responding to transfers and that players were positioned against each other, wondering who would stay and who was going to transfer out of the program.
“The people I talked to would say, ‘I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t know whether there was going to be a program or a team there… people were coming to our doors telling us the program was going to collapse,'” Raymond explained. “At a time when the university was struggling to figure out how to respond to this, these kids stood up and said, ‘You know what, there’s something here that’s worth preserving, and we’re gonna stay.'”
Although Penn State was ineligible for bowl games and found itself unable to match scholarships of other schools competing for recruits, Raymond offered his praise for those student-athletes who sacrificed a lot to preserve the program he loved.
“That’s what appealed to me about it, the young players seeing what was important and saying, ‘We’re going to stay here, we’re going to rescue the program,'” Raymond said.
Raymond’s inspiration and discovery of the story were born from the perfect storm of circumstances that led him down the path of exploring “Men In White.” During the height of COVID-19 and working from home, Raymond talked about moving forward in an uncertain time when he was looking for writing inspiration for his career and for a potential book idea.
Raymond also spoke about the influence of his Penn State father-and-son bond that pushed him to explore the ideas behind “Men In White.” Raymond explained that, at the time, his son Adam was warming up to becoming a Penn State fan.
“He came out of the blue at one point and said ‘I want to go to a Penn State game,'” Raymond said. “It was a couple of weeks later they announced they were going to be playing in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.”
Raymond spoke about watching the 2016 game against Ohio State, too.
“During the Ohio State game… when they blocked that kick and returned it, it was one of the most special moments of my life. We were both jumping up and down,” Raymond said. “I was so glad he had the chance to see this…and experience what I had in my days at Penn State.”
Between COVID-19 and experiences with his son, Raymond realized that the opportunity before him was too good to pass up.
“I had always wanted to write a book and this was the opportunity to do it,” Raymond said.
From covering sports with ESPN The Magazine and GQ, Raymond talked about how he felt like the book was there and was meant for him to discover and write.
“It was a chance to kind of show, all the damning people had done on Penn State… the whole school and everyone associated with it [got] written off,” Raymond said. “There was a lot of good in the Penn State I knew and the community that’s there.”
“Men In White: The Gutsy, Against-All-Odds Return of Penn State Football” is available beginning August 13, 2024, and is currently available for preorder online.
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About the Author
The ranking comes after the Nittany Lions’ 27-6 victory over Rutgers.
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McSorley has spent time in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, and the Bears.