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

Op-Ed published in 2016 on

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.



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.