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An Open Letter to Penn State Football Players and Fans

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An Open Letter to Penn State Football Players and Fans
The Blue Band celebrates Thon at halftime. In 2012 Thon raised more than $10 million to combat children's cancer. Photo by Carolyn M. Todd

Today we are all astonished by what the NCAA determined as sanctions starting in 2012 for alleged cover-ups by senior leaders in the Sandusky child sexual abuse crimes. 

It is not our purpose here to comment on the appropriateness of those sanctions or formulate an opinion on whether the Freeh Report is the right basis for making those judgments.  Others are making those sorts of statements elsewhere.

What we do know, and perhaps it’s ALL that we know, is that none of this had to do with you, the Penn State football players.  And we wish to personally thank you for your great conduct over the past several months.

You have withstood so much.  You had to suffer the initial shock with the rest of us about the Grand Jury presentment.  You watched as your coach Joe Paterno was fired by the Board of Trustees without any due process.  Then, a week later, you learned he had lung cancer.

You finished out the season—the toughest part of your schedule against Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin—with interim head coach Tom Bradley, losing two of those games.  Then you went to the Ticket City Bowl in Dallas against Houston, a lesser bowl than you deserved, and suffered a loss there, perhaps because the situation was disheartening, or maybe Houston was the better team that day. 

In January, all but two of your former coaches were gone and you had to adjust to a brand new coaching regimen under newly arrived Bill O’Brien.  You attended coach Paterno’s funeral and grieved as we all did.  And six months later you grieved again with us as we watched his statue be removed.

Through all of this trauma, you went to class, you got good grades and you stayed out of trouble and out of the limelight.  You have had to work very hard and you have had to prove yourself all over again to this new coaching staff.  It hasn’t been an easy time for any of you.

Winning at Ohio State...20-14 in 2011 was special. Photo by Carolyn M. Todd

On the other hand, it seems like you are quite excited, as we are, about the new coaching staff and the more aggressive style of offense you are working on, as well as the new training regimen.

And just two weeks ago, you raised $110,000 for kidney cancer research at Lift for Life.  We have been so proud of you.

And then, the slap in the face for nothing—nothing you did.  Today you were told that you will not be able to play in any bowl games for four years, you learned that scholarships will be reduced for future players and you suffered the indignities of watching coach Joe Paterno’s wins—WHOSE wins?—be stripped from 1998 to 2011.

The death penalty has been avoided. Penn State can play 12 games in the regular season and is also still part of the Big Ten conference.   

We know that’s small comfort to you.  You are a competitor and your time, and the opportunity to compete at the highest level and to potentially win a championship or go to a bowl game, is being denied to you. 

You have to make a decision that’s right for you as to whether to transfer based on how you feel about Penn State, about where you are with your academic major, about your potential in other programs at this late date, your current expectation of playing time here vs. there and your personal needs such as family desires.  In other words, this is completely ridiculous for you as a player, even if the NCAA allows you to transfer “without penalty.”

We hope that you will stay.  But if staying does not make sense for you, we will understand.

What we would like to tell you is that if you stay, we will be there for you.  That we support you through thick and thin, because you are the great team players you have shown to us this year.  This year and beyond, we plan to continue supporting Penn State football.  Not because of coach Bill O’Brien, who we believe is the right person to lead you through this situation, but because of you, the players.

Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin competes in the 2011 Lift for Life. Photo by Carolyn M. Todd

You see, that’s the point that everyone seems to be missing here.  College football is not about the coaches.  College football is about the players, and about the team.  It’s about the life lessons that come from playing a team sport while getting a solid education that will prepare you for the future.  It’s not really about who makes it into the NFL because so few players actually will on any team.

We go to Penn State football games to watch YOU perform, not the coaches.  And nothing has changed our minds about that.  We go there to applaud your great plays.  We groan at your mistakes.  We notice great execution on every first down made.  We bemoan a miscue that could have produced a great play.  We love winning, but we also recognize that sometimes the other team is better than you. 

It is the symphony of 11 players working together in precise maneuvers to march down the field that makes college football the great game it is. Yes, a coach conducts you on the sidelines, but without your execution, the game is nothing.  And we look forward to watching you play this fall, to watching this new style of offense and defense you have been learning but we as fans have very little clues about yet.    

We love seeing you develop your skills, from the first time you take the field at your first Blue-White game to Senior Day, when we can celebrate your contributions.  We like to observe how you progress both as a player and as a person over the four to five years you are here.

Personally, we will attend EVERY game, both away and home, to watch you play this year. And we look forward to every down, every stadium, every good play and bad that happens. Nothing has changed our commitment to that, not even these NCAA sanctions. 

As for Penn State fans everywhere, here’s what we suggest: come to games this fall. Don’t sit home and watch it on television if you can come.

If you’ve been thinking about season tickets and have been on the fence about ordering them, get off the fence. If you can’t make all games or season tickets are not possible for you, come to a few games. 

Individual tickets are available for many games and we need to show this team it has our support.

As a Penn State community, we need to show the world that we will stand together in support of this football team that did not deserve the penalties they received today.   We need to support our players and our new coaches, and we also need to do our part to support efforts like the Penn State Blue-Out on September 22, which will be a special stadium effort to create awareness about and raise money to combat child sexual abuse.

Penn State is, and always has been, so much more than a “football culture.”  And for anybody who knows anything about Thon, they know that Penn State cares deeply about children and we fans are abhorred by the crimes that Sandusky committed.

But if you have doubts about the “football culture,” please look at the graduation rates of Penn State players to know that we have done some things right for a long time, and will continue to do so in the future. 

We can’t allow the heinous crimes of Sandusky and the alleged cover-ups by four senior leaders who have not yet been able to defend themselves under cross-examination in a court of law to define us all.

All eyes will be on Beaver Stadium this fall.  Will you be there to show the world and the media we stand united behind this team?   We hope so.

This is a huge crisis, but by being calm, and by rallying together to support all that we know is good about Penn State and this football team, we will somehow manage to forge a new future. 

 We hope you will all be a part of it, especially our current players.

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