As a Penn State alumn and someone who currently lives in State College, I may have a different perspective on the events of the past few weeks than some. I personally witnessed the riots that took place after JoePa was fired. Here’s a photo I snapped of the overturned news van sitting on College Ave just across from Urban Outfitters.
There are a few things that should be cleared up though. A lot of people in the media have vilified Penn State students for their handling of this. They ask “where was the riot for the victims?” Anyone who would ask that has no idea what Joe Paterno has meant for this community for the past several decades. It’s not like the students forgot about those victims. Look at the turnout at the candle-light vigil about 2 nights later for proof of that. But this riot was about what they saw as an injustice that was being made against a man who was a fatherly figure, a man who has gone out of his way throughout his life to do the right thing in so many instances. It is why TV specials were made about him, why books were written about him, and why he was looked up to as the model of what coaches should be about.
His handling of the Sandusky situation, however, has put a cloud over all of that. I am personally holding my judgement until we know more. That is more than can be said about the media and much of the public though, who have already made their judgement that he is to blame here. While the actual crimes against children were made by Sandusky, the media coverage would go for tens of minutes before they even mention his name, instead choosing to latch onto the public face of the University, who is only indirectly involved.
The riots were directly caused by this, and the resulting firing of Joe because of the external pressure to do so. They were directed towards the media for their handling of the situation, their targeting Joe when Sandusky was the real villain, and when Joe was fired it all came to a head. I was there, snapping up photos and reporting back through social media what I saw. There were a few knuckleheads who were climbing up on light poles, breaking a few down, and tipping over that news van, but the vast majority of people were just there peacefully chanting three main themes:
1. Unwavering hatred towards Sandusky, over and over again.
2. Support of Joe Paterno, who was fired based on his proximity to these allegations.
3. Vitriol against the media, for putting their hero in that position, as they saw it, unfairly.
The series of events that occurred in 2003 will eventually come to light in great detail, and only then will we have enough understanding of what each party knew to make a rational judgement.
Regardless of the outcome of the current investigation, the damage has been done. If those kids were in fact victimized it’s a tragedy. The most rock-solid reputation in sports has been cracked, and a proud University has had its name tarnished.