Penn State Punishment: Looking Through the Eyes of a Penn State Student

Brandon K. Smith@Hurricane_BkContributor IIIJuly 23, 2012

DISCLAIMER: I am a current Penn State student. I understand that statement alone may cause many reading to immediately dismiss anything I say in the following piece without question, and I totally comprehend why.  

I also have been a student at a major SEC school before transferring to University Park. I have been inside the so-called Penn State "bubble," and I have looked at it from a distance. This is relevant because I believe it helps shape my perspective of the Penn State football scandal.

Before I begin, I would like to make one more statement:

Make no mistake—this is not just a scandal. To call what Jerry Sandusky did to those helpless boys "a scandal" would be highly inappropriate. 

The scandal came with the cover-up, which in many ways was a tragedy in its own right. This is due to the fact that my University’s leaders, including one Joe Paterno, used their power for what can only be described as immoral and evil.

I can confidently say I speak for my classmates, alumni and anyone else associated with the university when I say this: We send our deepest apologies to the victims. This goes without saying, but yet it still seems so necessary. 

I am truly sorry for how the leaders at my university acted—or did not act, rather. Not because they were leaders but because they were humans. Because not reporting what they knew to be happening is inhumane and flat-out wrong. If any victims are reading this, please know nothing written here is meant to disrespect you or downplay what you have been through. 

Nothing that any of us in State College says in regards to what we are going through personally with this scandal is meant to belittle what happened to you, and if you feel that way, we apologize; that was never our intention. 

Please know this, and that our hearts and prayers at Penn State still go out to you, as they always shall. We are sorry.

Now, let me begin...

I cannot help but notice that "Paterno" shows up on my computer screen with a red squiggly line beneath it. 

Wrong. Incorrect. At fault. 

It's almost as if even Microsoft agrees with the general public consensus on the deceased Penn State football coach.  

And who wouldn't?

The statue needed to come down. Rodney Erickson was 100 percent correct when he said:

"Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location."(

Penn Staters may not like or totally accept that reality, but unfortunately, that IS the reality. Paterno made a HUGE mistake that selfishly affected other people's safety and well-being.  

To make matters worse, those people were helpless children. It's not much more complicated than that. 

Sure, he did great by our school for a long time, and we shouldn't forget all that good will, either. But a man can only be defined by his actions, and in this case, Paterno allowed a great legacy that led to a great deal of power affect his decision-making for the worst, when the right thing to do was so clearly obvious. 

He failed our institution, and more importantly, he failed those children. 

For my fellow Nittany Lions who may be condemning me right now or insinuating that I'm not a "true Penn Stater" for no longer supporting a man I once referred to as "Grandpa Joe," open up your eyes beyond the hills of Happy Valley. Don't be blind. 

There is a fine line between right and wrong. He was in the wrong, and devastatingly so.            

Still, the NCAA's sanctions on Penn State are mostly nonsensical, especially the vacating of 111 of Paterno's wins from 1998-2011 (per

I somewhat understand the need felt by the NCAA to place Penn State football on probation. Without a doubt, some sort of consequence had to be delivered, and the NCAA saw itself as the law in this situation, as it typically does. 

However, although what happened at Penn State was only possible through its football program and its power, this was and is not a football issue. It was and is a legal issue involving a small handful of university higher-ups, and an even smaller number of them happened to be leaders of the football program.

But those men have all been ousted. They're gone. 

The football program and school desperately have been trying to move on from what will surely shadow my soon-to-be alma mater everywhere it goes for likely the next few decades and beyond. Perhaps rightfully so, to serve as a reminder of what misused power can do, if nothing else.

For the rest of my life, I fully expect to be asked about this obscene issue every time I inform someone that I attended Penn State University. Some people may even dislike me simply due to my association with Penn State. I'm not even comfortable wearing a Penn State t-shirt outside the confines of Happy Valley these days.  

But why are people who had no involvement with the Sandusky scandal responsible for footing the bill for his and former university leaders' crimes?

Many people see Penn State students' unhappy reaction to everything being dealt to our school, and they say much of the same things. 

"They don't sympathize with the victims." 

"The entire culture there is wrong." 

"They just don't get it."

Really? We don’t get "it?" 

We may not have been direct victims of Sandusky, but we lived through the chaotic fallout. Trust me, we very much "get it."  For a week straight toward the end of the fall semester, all we talked about in any of my classes was "it."

We were lied to, just as much as everyone else, and by our own leaders. The same men who were charged with having our best interests in mind, nonetheless. To think we weren't angry with the former leaders of our institution is a drastic misconception.

And while it's easy for people from afar to say, "They all should be ashamed," really think about it.

What did I do that relates to this scandal? I didn't rape anybody. I didn't cover anything up. I didn't know. 

And the same holds true for 99.9 percent of Penn Staters. 

It makes no sense to put a son's head on the chopping block for the sins of his father. That is why the greater Penn State community is up in arms right now.

General public: Please don't mistake that for disrespect to the victims or not feeling for what they've been through. 

The heinous riots after Paterno's firing were very well-televised; the candlelight vigil held shortly after, which had thousands more in attendance than said riots, went on with just a brief word from ESPN.  To say supporting Penn State is supporting child molestation or anything to that effect is bogus and shows a lack of comprehension skills.

Keep in mind, this is the same school with the largest student-run philanthropy (THON) in the world, a philanthropy that just so happens to be a valued leader in the fight against pediatric cancer.

We're trying to right the ship—to make things correct—even though we were not the ones with blood on our hands.

But what do you want us to do? Bash our university? Go buy Ohio State gear? 

WE ARE Penn State is a far cry from HE IS Penn State. The "he" in this case being any of our former leaders, especially Paterno. We—the students, faculty and alumni—will continue to have pride in our school because it's our school, not theirs. 

We make up the greater good, not the men no longer associated with us. To ask us not to support our school is to tell us to not believe in each other and ourselves. Are we suddenly not allowed to have a sense of community, a sense of belonging? 

If the president of our country were to make a grave error, does that make every American who sings the "Star-Spangled Banner" a sinner? 

So, please forgive us for continuing to have pride in our academic institution.

Then there are the new sanctions.

The NCAA vacating 111 of Paterno's wins makes zero sense. From a logical standpoint, it doesn't add up. At what point does harboring a pedophile, albeit a disgraceful and unforgivable act, help you win football games? 

This is a legal issue. Not an NCAA issue.

The NCAA should be involved in creating a fair and level playing field, and nothing more. It's not their job to play moral or legal judge and jury. But as per the usual, the NCAA made a rash decision that was certainly helped along by a public outcry and much media hoopla surrounding an idea that, "They need to shut down the football program, etc."

Shut down the football program? No one under the new regime at Penn State had anything to do with the cover-up. None of the football players did, either, so why punish them?

Why punish the state of Pennsylvania, who reaps the financial rewards of the football program each year? 

If Paterno was the leader of the football program, and he was just as involved in the cover-up as ex-president Graham Spanier—who represented our ENTIRE school—maybe the state of Pennsylvania should levy sanctions against my peers and me.  After all, we had just as much involvement with this as everyone else in State College at this point, including the current football team. 

People who proclaim that the football culture at Penn State was out of control need to get in check with reality. And it's not even to say such an opinion isn't totally warranted; in fact, it is entirely justifiable.

But could we not say that about 30 or more other programs in the country? 

America has a football problem, as our infatuation and glorification of a sport that thrives on barbaric violence is now greater than it has ever been. Kids can play tackle football in most places before they even know their multiplication tables. All of this leaves them susceptible for concussions at an alarmingly early age, which can obviously lead to greater brain damage down the road. 

Penn State may have a football problem, yes, but it's no different than the culture at other major schools in our nation. And if anyone thinks that culture won't (or hasn't already) dramatically change in Happy Valley through the trials and tribulations of the past several months, think again.

Finally, in regards to the sanctions the NCAA levied against Penn State football, should a punishment not in some way lead to a more positive outcome? I don't see how that's possible here. 

In the greater scheme of things, Paterno's wins don’t really matter. It's football. There are kids with bombs attached to themselves in the Middle East who become walking explosives. Life will go on without those wins. 

But if the NCAA has tricked itself into thinking vacating those wins will somehow heal the victims even a little bit, the NCAA is insane. The victims probably don't care about vacating wins. What satisfaction could that possibly give them?

That just seems like the NCAA trying to make the punishment severe enough for the media, which isn't surprising in the least. It also sets up a new precedent for the NCAA to hand out punishment for a wider range of issues that they may have no business in.

Some sort of punishment had to be given to someone here, I just don't know if it was the NCAA's call to make, and I don't know that punishing the innocent for the acts of other men is reasonable, to say the least.


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