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11.13.2011

Mourning JoePa

This is kind of off point for the topic of this blog which I have been sadly neglecting anyhow, but it's something I needed to get off my chest after this past week, so here goes...

Happy Valley is a very sad place this week. Though I am not there to see it, I know it is true. I know it, because for four years State College was my home and though I no longer live there, Happy Valley is a part of me. Penn State is a part of me, and I am profoundly sad.

I am saddened that such a sick and disturbed person could abuse innocent young boys—that he could create an entire foundation to help them, just so he could seek out and groom victims. I am saddened by all the tears Jerry Sandusky's victims had to shed and all the happy moments that were stolen from them, not just as children, but for the rest of their lives. I am hurt and extremely disappointed that so many individuals within a community that I have always prided being a part of could have so tragically let these victims down by not doing everything in their power to stop the indecent acts they had reports of: individuals ranging from janitors all the way to the university president, and yes, even Joe Paterno.

And, so many people cannot fathom the unending support JoePa has seen from Penn Staters past and present. “How can you put football above the welfare of children?” they ask. To them, I reply, unequivocally, that we do not. We do not absolve JoePa his sin of omission. We are deeply disappointed in his inaction and for the unimaginable atrocities that continued to occur through the silence. But the truth is, JoePa has been the heart and soul of an institution that has shaped and molded us into the women and men we have become. He was more than just a football coach, he was a legend, and we loved him.

I remember the first time I realized this. I grew up a New York girl who knew little about Penn State or football, so for the first eighteen years of my life the name “JoePa” meant little. Then, the first week of my freshman year, I was walking down College Avenue late at night on my way to Players (sadly, I was young and na├»ve and still thought Players 18 and over night was cool). The Student Bookstore had long since closed its doors for the evening, so I was obviously shocked as I walked by and noticed someone standing in the window. It took me a few seconds to realize that person was Joe Paterno—or at least a life sized cardboard cutout of him. Since that night I have not only seen him in cardboard, or on the sidelines at dozen of games. I have not just seen him speak at dozens of press conferences; I have also spent countless hours studying in Paterno Library. I have eaten countless bowl of “Peachy Paterno” ice cream (and only “Peachy Paterno” because mixing flavors is a sin that only President Bill Clinton could get away with—and maybe JoePa if he didn’t know better than never to ask). I have even gathered at the Paterno statue to meet friends.

And so, Joe Paterno was a huge part of my life, and though I never even had a one on one with the man, I loved him. I looked up to him. He was a man of integrity, who put academics and morals above football—until he didn’t. And that knowledge is a huge loss to me. I will admit that for all the great things he has done for my alma mater over the last 61 years, he has still left an indelible mark on my heart, but sadly, the one thing he did not do will forever mar that mark. And so, as an alumnus of Dear Old State, I am first and foremost saddened for the victims of these horrible crimes, but selfishly, I am also saddened for my own loss. I grieve the loss of “JoePa.”

And so, I remind you, when you wonder what is going through the misguided minds of college kids who riot through the streets of State College, or alumni who are outraged that he has been fired and villainized, that there are five stages of grief. The first is denial, the second is anger. Many of us are still stuck in these stages. Please, do not judge too harshly. We are, after all, in mourning.

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