For the past 60 years, State College, Pennsylvania has been a place unlike any other in the world. In fact, it was its own world. And for the people of this separate world, being one-of-a-kind was just fine with them. They boasted the second largest collegiate football stadium in the country. They were the clear number one college in the state of Pennsylvania. And their prolific football team claimed seven undefeated seasons and two national championships. All of this was created and facilitated under the large nose and thick tinted glasses of JoePa.
His given name was Joseph Vincent Paterno, but nobody called him that inside the imaginary walls of Paternoville. He was either Joe or JoePa or Coach Paterno, supreme leader of everything football. He racked up 411 wins, more than any other coach in the history of D-I football. He made men out of boys and put the student back into the lost phrase ‘student-athlete’. See, State College was a town that as far as everyone knew, truly earned its moniker ‘Happy Valley’.
A tragedy in Happy Valley used to be an improbable statement.
A tragedy in Happy Valley is now an ironic statement.
For the last 14 years, a horrendous failure has taken place in the depths of ‘Happy Valley’. Those responsible have already been deemed guilty by the public for heinous crimes in an attempt to protect the man in showers stall two of the Lasch Building.
For awhile, Penn State’s upper echelon ensured that Jerry Sandusky’s atrocious crimes never leaked their way out to the Penn State coaching staff, players, fans or media. This is why on the day the story finally hit the airwaves, massive pandemonium stretched across the plains of Paternoville and streamed through every creek and crevice of Happy Valley.
To the outside world, it was like watching ants trying to reconcile an ant hill against tornado winds. But inside State College, the feeling of shock and denial ran rampant; everything they believed in, everything they wanted to believe in was in serious jeopardy. Throughout the following days, the school, the town, and the people were under constant attack from the outside. Pressures that had never been felt by the inhabitants of Paternoville now suddenly threatened their emotional and moral foundation.
Then JoePa was fired.
Penn State’s knight in shining armor was abruptly disowned. His loyal followers left grasping on to whatever they could hold on to. And in the paranoia of losing everything the school stood for, they revolted.
It unfolded on national TV for everyone to see. Students flipping cars, lighting things on fire and destroying the town that just hours before had been considered as sacred as a church. To the rest of America, Penn State had lost its sanity.
It was at that very moment the national media began seeing everyone associated with Penn State as one. One, a single entity, the action of one person seemingly became the action of all. In this case, the decisions made by a few men with power became the decisions made by every Nittany Lion.
The idea that four or five men accurately represent the moral pillars of a University, of thousands upon thousands of professors, students and alumni is garbage. It’s an idea that a writer scribbles on a piece of paper and before he can even blink, crumples it up and throws it in the trash.
See, the men believed to have covered up years of child sex abuse aren’t an accurate depiction of a Penn-Stater. Actually, as a matter of fact, they don’t represent anybody but themselves.
The hundred thousand fans that fill Beaver Stadium week after week, year after year see these crimes with the same compassionate eyes that the rest of us do. They may hold firm that Joe Paterno is innocent, or that the NCAA’s sanctions are too harsh, but being a Penn State fan doesn’t mean you think Jerry Sandusky is a great guy.
Being a Penn State football fan has always and will always be about supporting the student athletes out on the field, the coaches on the sideline and the magnificent school that encompasses Beaver stadium. It’s about making sure that every speck of your clothing is white to ensure the perfect white out.
Come September 1st, when the fans starts filing into Beaver stadium, and the players take the field for opening kickoff, the crowd won’t be chanting ‘We Were… Penn State’ as Sports Illustrated would like you to believe. No. There will be a clear and forceful sign of absolution by the 110,000 strong on hand. Not as a sign that the past has been forgotten or that the crimes committed have been forgiven. The chant will symbolize a new era, one of solidarity in the face of emotional adversity.
Because with the victims heavy at heart and the future cloudy in mind, everyone in the new Happy Valley will roar together: ‘We Are… Penn State’.