Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Try placing yourself at Penn State right now

Photo by Justin Wan | and Justin Wan The State News

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

Atticus Finch said you never know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes. Other people say it takes much more than a mile.

I’m assuming none of us have walked a mile in Jerry Sandusky’s shoes, and if I had, I know mine wouldn’t have led me near any underage boys — hopefully, neither would yours.

I’m also making the assumption none of you have worn the late Joe Paterno’s loosely laced Nikes. If you had, would you still be mercilessly pointing your fingers at Penn State University, demanding a banishment of everything Paterno? Maybe.

I’m not here to argue whether Paterno was in the right or in the wrong, and that’s mostly because I believe very few things in life are as easy as black and white. For the sake of the topic, yes, I think he turned his back multiple times to something that he should have addressed, and no, he shouldn’t have done that. Yes, I think Sandusky is a pig for what he did. That’s not the point of this either.

I also don’t think our opinions on sexual child abuse give us enough understanding to place our feet in the shoes of current Penn State officials.

There is absolutely no justification for the scandal. When it broke, some said Paterno failed to turn Sandusky in because he was a man he had spent about 30 years of his life with. Their friendship was one seldom experienced, and there were feelings of attachment and deep loyalty. Sorry, bad excuse.

On Nov. 16, I remember reading a tweet from author Harlan Coben that stuck in my mind above all else: “Don’t mistake turning a blind eye for love.”

There are certain points in life where we as human beings must make exceptionally difficult choices in order to do the “right” thing — there’s that word again. Paterno lacked the proper judgement to differentiate between right and wrong, and his once superlative image is now destroyed. The sky-high regard he was held in dropped so fast that many blinked and missed it.

Nearly everyone who followed this case is at a consensus that Paterno acted poorly.

Now Sandusky is locked up in jail for life and Paterno has passed, and everything is far from being resolved. Penn State is now stuck in the grayest of gray areas. Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice President Gary Schultz and President Graham Spanier are either suspended or no longer fulfilling their positions for allegedly covering up Sandusky’s actions, and current officials are left to pick up the pieces.

This is where right and wrong meshes into one big scrum filled with years of lies and far too much emotion.

Penn State is looked at to make the decision of whether or not to tear down a statue of a man once believed to be a saint. They are left to decide if his choice to protect his assistant coach was a poor enough one to rename the Paterno Library. And now there is speculation if the NCAA should continue to allow the football program to exist.

They have all this riding on their backs, while some are still undoubtedly trying to fathom how and why this had to happen at the unlikeliest of places.

As outsiders to the situation, it seems that the apparent choices in the above dilemmas are as obvious as Paterno’s choice to turn Sandusky in should have been. Officials should follow suit with the painter who promptly removed a halo above Paterno’s head on a mural in State College, Pa., and burn the statue and rename their library … right?

Sure, the “simple” choice would be to get rid of all reminders of a man who shoved one of the biggest scandals in college sports into a closet for about 14 years. But I wonder if there really is an easy choice here.

In an attempt to get the vaguest idea of how tense things are at Penn State right now, I tried to imagine what it would be like if something like the Paterno-Sandusky scandal happened at MSU.

Tom Izzo has been head coach of the men’s basketball team since 1995, leading the program to one NCAA Division I national championship, another national championship game, six Final Fours and seven Big Ten championships. Spartans love Izzo for the way he represents one of the athletics department’s shining sports — with class.

Hypothetical: fast forward to the year 2040. Izzo is still head of the men’s basketball team, with even more accolades under his belt. He would be in his 45th season as MSU men’s basketball head coach — nearly the same amount of time Paterno spent as head coach of Penn State football. Then you find out Izzo has been covering up a child sexual abuse scandal for about 14 years.

Would it still be as easy to banish all remembrance of a man whom we’ve all grown to love and admire? Do we forget about his efforts toward Coaches vs. Cancer, Sparrow Hospital and the V Foundation?

Some people might say yes, that would be enough to forget about all his contributions. Others might hesitate before answering.

By no means am I trying to hint at any kind of scandal being covered up at MSU, nor does that example reflect on Izzo or my views of him. I only am attempting to provide some idea of what both Penn State students and faculty must be feeling, and remembering how lucky Spartans are that we aren’t Penn State Nittany Lions right now.

It’s too easy to look at situations as outsiders with no real involvement in the situation and scorn Penn State for their lack of Paterno memorabilia removal. But that’s really all we are: outsiders.

We weren’t there when the scandal broke. We weren’t protesting in defense of a cherished man. And we aren’t there right now as a university is carefully trying to mend the pieces of a broken glass puzzle.

Alyssa Girardi is the opinion editor at The State News. Reach her at girardi5@msu.edu.

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