Penn State Wrongfully Continues to Honor, Defend Paterno’s Actions

Op-Ed published in 2016 on 14thstreetmagazine.com.

Fifty years ago from Saturday, Joe Paterno coached his first Penn State football game. Fifty years ago, before a statue was raised in his honor and an ice cream flavor was named for him. Before Paterno’s 30-year assistant Jerry Sandusky raped 10 young boys, some in the University’s own athletic complex bathrooms. Before Paterno was an enabler of child sexual abuse, allegedly ignoring a complaint from a young boy in 1971 who was raped by Sandusky.

Saturday commemorated the 50th anniversary of a head coach who was aware of and allowed for Sandusky’s continued abuse for almost the entirety of his head coaching career. He kept the secrets of the Penn State showers clouded and turned his back while Sandusky – his right-hand man on the football field – unapologetically had his way with children. As an outsider at Beaver Stadium Saturday, I witnessed an unworthy celebration.

The stadium blew up with unquestioning applause for Paterno twice, in the second and third quarters, as megatrons displayed his image and listed his contributions to Penn State. Fans gathered and prayed around a memorial where Paterno’s statue used to stand. The University, whose name is forever tarnished by the scandal, is trying to backtrack to a time when Paterno was an innocent part of the equation.

It’s another way Penn State administration is attempting to avoid the real issue. They go to great lengths to make sure all appears happy in Happy Valley. Many Penn State affiliates worship Paterno. They wear JoePa memorial T-shirts while walking hand in hand with their young daughters and sons, walking examples of denial.

Not only do they celebrate a child sexual abuse enabler, but the administration and affiliates continue to protect the delusional belief that nothing is wrong with it. Never is it acceptable to praise the character of m

an who abandoned abuse victims, no matter his number of wins or the weight of his contributions to the school. While Penn State did remove Paterno’s statue from outside the stadium four years ago many alumni still protest for its return.

At a fork in the scandal’s path in May, when it was revealed Paterno knew about the abuse since 1971, Penn State had two options: discontinue outward support for Paterno and potentially lose his ongoing scholarship donations and the thousands of fans who idolize him, or ignore his moral shortcomings and reap the financial benefits.

It’s impossible to put Paterno’s contributions into a single number, but they include millions and continue to grow with the financial success of the football team. With these consequences in mind, the University attempts to quiet the critics.

Some of those critics Saturday included Penn State students themselves, and a small patch of Temple cherry in Beaver Stadium for the game. I was sitting in the Temple section, where students actively protested the celebration. Four students held a banner that read “He turned his back, we’ll turn ours #JoePaKnew” and almost the entire section put their backs to the stadium during the two-minute megatron clips.

Temple students protested the dedication to Paterno during the Temple versus Penn State football game in September 2016. Stadium officials attempted to remove the banner.
Temple students protested the dedication to Paterno during the Temple versus Penn State football game in September 2016. Stadium officials attempted to remove the banner.

During halftime, the banner caused some fierce language and physical interaction between a Penn State and two Temple fans. Though the students with the banner were uninvolved, stadium authorities made their way to the top of the section to act on a complaint that the banner was “offensive.” The authorities ignored reports of the fight altogether, did not even bother talking to the men involved and turned their attention to the Temple students. They first made the students remove the banner, then told them it had to be confiscated. The Temple students refused.

They argued that it was a matter of free speech – the banner lacked any profanity and was a simply-stated opinion of the Paterno issue. It did not matter if a Paterno supporter found it to be offensive. The Temple students backfired with the argument that the honoring of Paterno offended them. The officials had no legal authority to remove the banner from a public University’s facility. One of them even told me they did not want to act upon the complaint, but they received an order from an administrator to do so.

The officials and students continued to deliberate and four more armed officers entered the section. They left empty-handed minutes later, realizing they had no real authority over the students’ demonstration.

Somehow, the Penn State administration believed they had a monopoly on the Paterno issue – another false reality. The University was allowed to celebrate Paterno, but attempted to disallow students from condemning him. It’s clear that the administration is putting aside an important turning point in the case to defend Paterno’s contributions and the name of Penn State football.

What they do not realize is that we now live in a “see something, say something” era. Professional football is spreading domestic abuse awareness and advocating stricter punishments for players and NFL team staff accused of sexual assault or enabling.

The male sports world is going through a change. In the recent past, reports of sexual assault against sports participants have gone ignored, or given lackluster punishments. Now, the NFL is at least taking a stance against those who ignore sexual assault.  

The Sandusky scandal gave momentum to this movement, and Penn State should have taken the scandal as an opportunity to promote zero tolerance for abusers or enablers. Instead, they cling to legacy and financial gain. As the sports world takes a step forward, Penn State takes two steps back.

The Paterno controversy not only reveals deeper issues in Penn State’s administration, but highlights Temple’s handling of a similar situation, as the University is currently facing a huge sexual assault scandal involving a former major contributor, Bill Cosby.

Cosby was on the Board of Trustees and heavily influential in the Temple community until numerous women began coming out and accusing him of rape. As he was initially facing trial, he was forced to resign from the Board. University affiliates are now advocating to take back his honorary degree. Despite his influence and financial contributions, the University feels a moral obligation to separate from him, as he was an accused sexual abuser. He has not even been convicted and no accusations have been confirmed.

Paterno was revealed to have known about Sandusky’s child abuse since 1971, according to multiple reports, and in 2002 it was confirmed that a witness of the abuse came to Paterno with the information. Sandusky was not convicted until 2011. Paterno was involved with a scandal where he and Penn State authorities protected a child rapist within their own facilities and yet the University continues to take pride. Paterno has provided a tremendous amount of money and success to the school and is the man behind the prestige of the football team, which brings in millions each year. So they honor him. They honor a man who allowed children to be raped and led a program of dishonesty.

Respect for Paterno has already been lost by outsiders, who are waiting for Penn State to accept the unfortunate situation and break the bubble of delusion surrounding Happy Valley.

 

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Palestinian and Zionist Student Groups Improve Dialogue to Reach Common Goal

Published: Fourteenth Street Magazine online, March 13 2016

Politicized language expresses a deep tension surrounding Israel and Palestine, as the two nations continue to feel threatened by each other. However the fear and hatred expressed conceals the desire to peacefully settle a centuries-old conflict.

A common goal between both nations has been hidden by hostility: peace and freedom for all people. Mainstream media is often consumed by the violence, rather than diplomacy, between the two polarized nations, depicting U.S.-backed Israel as a struggling state defending against Hamas terrorists. But there are many sides to the story – the Israeli government has made violent attacks on Palestinians unassociated with terrorism.

The conflict can be translated to Temple’s campus, where in the past Hillel and the Students for Justice in Palestine, among other Jewish and Palestinian groups in Philadelphia have protested and rejected each other for a once non-negotiable barrier between their two cultures.

Since beginning a closer relationship with the University’s diversity office, Hillel and SJP have made an effort to have respectful discussions. Hillel President Max Buchdahl said many American Jews feel cultural ties to Israel, though others are able to separate it from the Jewish faith. This can change the impact of SJP’s anti-Israel dialogue.

“A lot of American Jews grow up and we get a very positive image of Jewish faith in terms of religious teachings, moral values and things like that,” Buchdahl said. “They attach the state of Israel directly to the Jewish religion. Obviously there’s a connection, but I think they’re two separate entities.”

SJP holds ties with Middle Eastern, African American and minority students on college campuses. They have collaborated with socialist and anti-Islamophobic groups, Queer People of Color, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Asian and Black student unions, working to universalize the Palestinian struggle and connect it to social justice issues that have or are occurring in the U.S. Freshman SJP member Dinsio Walo-Wright praised SJP for its inclusiveness.

“I’m a black person. I’m not Palestinian,” she said. “We pride ourselves on intersectionality. The struggle of the Palestinian people is the same struggle that my people are going through.”

Freshman SJP member Natalie Abulhawa planned SJP’s Free Food and Fun Friday last month, celebrating Palestinian culture with ethnic food, dancing and art.

Freedom Dabke, a Palestinian dance group from New York performs at SJP's Free Food and Fun Friday in February.
Freedom Dabke, a Palestinian dance group from New York performs at SJP’s Free Food and Fun Friday in February. (Click to view the full photo gallery).

“Our stereotype can be the same stereotype that Muslims and Arabs get,” said Abulhawa, whose mother is from Palestine. “[Such as] militant, kind of ignorant things that people don’t understand … We represent the love we have and the fight that we’ve given and the strength that Palestinians have.”

Political stigma surrounding SJP has caused meeting cancellations and kickback from the University, according to President and sophomore Iman Sultan. She said their strong political views can often distract from the culture they want to represent and the accessibility of SJP.

However, SJP’s reputation is often overshadowed by an incident at 2014 Templefest, where Jewish student Daniel Vessel was allegedly attacked with anti-Semitic slurs and punched by a student standing by the SJP table. Vessel, a junior at the time, approached the table first and “verbally harassed them repeatedly,” according to Abulhawa and SJP member Yafa Dias. Vessel was also a member of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a group Abulhawa and Dias said specifically targets SJP groups in the U.S.

“What happened in 2014 was not our fault, it was more the fault of circumstance,” Sultan said. “When it comes to Templefest, every table is public. Anyone can visit it. Our table happened to draw commotion because of our political views and orientation.”

Though Hillel now has a closer relationship with the Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) office at Temple, senior Hillel member Emily Simons said the 2014 incident was not handled as well as it could have been. She said Hillel had requested the University provide security by their table for Templefest, but it did not.

“I was upset with the University because now everything that they’re doing is reactionary when it should be proactionary,” Simons said. “Now we’re working really hard with the IDEAL office and teaching them about diversity in the Jewish culture and we had [President] Theobald here. But it took four years to get Theobald to come to Shabbat dinner.”

Because of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath on Fridays, Hillel is unable to host Free Food and Fun Fridays, limiting the University’s involvement with their group. Simons said this was something both Hillel and the University are beginning to address.

Temple alumnus Hanna Khoury, music director for the Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture group in Philadelphia, plays traditional Palestinian music on violin accompanied by students and Al-Bustan master percussionist Hafez Kotain on drums.
Temple alumnus Hanna Khoury, music director for the Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture group in Philadelphia, plays traditional Palestinian music on violin accompanied by students and Al-Bustan master percussionist Hafez Kotain on drums.

She also said the 2014 incident was a reflection of the Hillel student board at the time. The group now has a full-functioning board that can actively interact with University officials. Iman said SJP’s student board at the time also failed to make their group accessible.

It is important to students in SJP and Hillel that the University provide a space for them to discuss and debate issues, and reduce demonization of either group. But there is a very fine line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. SJP members claim the latter; they do not support the establishment of the state of Israel. They often boycott products produced in Israel and push legislation that cuts the U.S. and Temple’s relationship with the nation, behaviors they define as anti-Zionist.

But for students raised in Jewish families and communities, anti-Israel speech of any kind can trigger emotion. Jews with strong ties to their culture consider the denial of a Jewish state as a rejection of their culture and therefore language can be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

“For a lot of Jewish students, they can’t see the difference,” Buchdahl said. “Any comment which resembles an anti-Israel sentiment is ‘you hate all Jews.’ … It conjures up a lot of emotion.”

On the other hand, Sultan said there is a distinct difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and that language is sometimes called anti-Semitic as a silencing tactic for anti-Zionist sentiments. This denies SJP the right to share their opinions on the state of Israel.

“A very serious issue of religious and ethnic discrimination against Jews is being exploited by people who have their own political agenda,” she said.

But Simons also believes anti-Zionist language can be easily interpreted as anti-Semitic whether it is intentional or not.

“[It’s] the way that someone feels they’re being attacked because of their religion and their culture,” Simons said. “That’s up to them to decide, not someone else, the same way someone might feel being attacked for their race.”

Sultan and Abdulhawa said they were not anti-Semitic and that SJP advocates for the liberation of all people, including both Palestinians and Jews suffering acts of war along the Gaza strip.

“Judaism is a religion. It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful,” Abdulhawa said. “When I say I’m anti-Israel, I boycott them; I don’t buy products from them. People think that’s anti-Semitic but it’s not. It’s a misunderstanding.”

Misunderstanding is starting to be addressed between IDEAL and each group, but dialogue between Hillel and SJP is still limited. Carmen Phelps, director of student engagement at IDEAL, said she has seen progress between the two groups. Both had representatives at the social justice summit in January and both appeared willing to discuss their interests.

Phelps also said she would understand why in the past Hillel and SJP were not open to these discussions. She said the University did not have personnel dedicated to learning the concerns of both groups, but her position now attempts to bridge the gap and encourage conversation that could potentially change the global perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The challenges all groups face, on this campus and in the world in general, are global,” Phelps said. “We can’t really expect these issues to be reconciled and resolved when we’re looking at global issues … Hopefully what we can do … is encourage a new paradigm for achieving those goals in the world, perhaps starting with an SJP and a Hillel at Temple.”

Gallery

Students for Justice in Palestine Hosted Free Food and Fun Friday (Feb. 2016)

Temple vs. Notre Dame Football Gameday Recap

Published: Fourteenth Street Magazine online, Nov. 13 2015

Evident through its excitement, the Notre Dame contest October 31  meant something, not just for Temple, but for Philadelphia. It was the biggest support the city had given to a college football team, possibly ever. With the Eagles on a bye week and struggling to kickstart their offense, the Owls took center-stage Halloween weekend. College Gameday brought the hype, and students, alumni and Philadelphians brought the “fight, fight, fight!” Temple became a household name and continues to be as the team continues their winningest regular season in decades.

Halloween morning (12:30 a.m. to be exact) is when College Gameday started for me. I “got up for game day” and had my artistically-inclined friend paint my face like an owl; my own rendition of a Halloween costume with equal parts school and holiday spirit. I grabbed my corny gameday sign which read “This is Owl City”, and hoped my efforts would be displayed on ESPN. I coveted my opportunity to get five seconds of fame just as much as Temple coveted the media’s spotlight on our university.

Temple University football vs. Notre Dame Oct. 31
Temple University football vs. Notre Dame Oct. 31 at Lincoln Financial Field.

 Elation and caffeine kept me running – literally – to catch an Uber with my friends across campus. As I was jogging past Maxi’s, I looked up for a brief moment and saw a shooting star.

Call it superstition, but it was clear to me through this sign that the football gods were on Temple’s side. At this moment I decided not getting crushed by Notre Dame was not enough. My hopes of defeating a long-time superior football team became undeniable confidence which rose as the energy level – and sun – rose at Independence Mall that morning.

Standing in the front row for Gameday was magical, and worth the hours on our feet  waiting for 9 a.m. to finally arrive. Seeing firsthand the passion and excitement behind Temple football amazed me and it occurred to me the upperclassmen around me had never experienced something like this before. How lucky we were to witness the biggest names in sportscasting talk about our school with dignity, how proud we were that day to be Owls.

In the end it did not matter that both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked the Irish to win Saturday’s game. I did not expect the sportscasters to give Temple the benefit of the doubt considering Notre Dame has been defeating nationally-ranked teams for years. I was unphased by the decision. The important thing was that we were undefeated, ranked, and noticed. Temple was the underdog, but a competitive one, which delivered that sliver of hope. The thought of winning was distant, but visible.

The tailgates at Lincoln Financial Field were fueled by the typical selection of drunk college kids and faithful alumni, similar to the scene for the Penn State game earlier in the season. But what struck me was the number of Irish fans. The rumors were confirmed; Notre Dame fans travel well, are fans for life and everyone seemed to support the Irish. I saw an infant sporting a Leprechaun onesie and elderly fans guzzling beer alongside their grandchildren.The view from across the Wild Cherry student section was a sea of navy and gold.

Cherry-clad students filled the lower-level seats, and some were even forced to stand or sent to the 200-sections of the Linc. The sections behind one end zone were filled to the brim with Owls. That night, Temple fans let out the excitement they had been concealing for decades.

Every down on defense meant a thundering roar from the crowd. Junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich threw up his arms time after time, urging the crowd to be louder. Some used the provided “thunder sticks” but when they deflated too quickly,  I and most around me resorted to banging on the seats.

While everyone that day showed up for an intense contest, one party shined brighter than all the others: the Temple football team. Head coach Matt Rhule had been feeding the media the same message for days leading up to the game; his team was prepared to go into this game like any other despite its magnitude for the University and the potential for a glorified upset. The players were unscathed by the hype and played the same football they had been playing for their 7-0 streak.

The defense put a tremendous – and unexpected –  amount of pressure on Notre Dame’s quarterback DeShone Kizer throughout the entirety of the game leading to two end zone interceptions in the first half to prevent the Irish from taking a substantial lead. It was a wave of relief to see Temple take control of the football when the offense was not on the field.

It was what fans needed to see to keep their faith in the Owls, and one of the reasons why the Irish were held to the last minutes of the contest. The offense was not quickly counted out either. Quarterback P.J. Walker and Running Back Jahad Thomas repeatedly marched down the field with conversion after conversion, working around the powerful Irish defense. The effort and success was a sight to see and kept fans on edge, hoping for that upset. My hands spent a majority of the game covering my mouth in awe or anxiety.

It was a disappointing loss, but not disappointing in that the Owls made a number of mistakes or played poorly. The only Temple turnover was a pick thrown by Walker in the final minutes, which was gut-wrenching, and almost brought me to tears, but did not change my outlook of the game. The Owl’s’ ability to hold on through four full quarters gave now-number six Notre Dame quite a scare. Temple went into the Linc and did their job, making the doubters eat their words and Kizer quit his end zone taunting. After the game I was still proud  to call myself a Temple Owl.