I ran 9 miles on Thursday during lunch. I decided to run a favorite route that was part trail so I could run through the amazing fall scenery here in the foothills of the Appalachians in Birmingham. Stress relief was the goal and a fast pace followed. I never looked at my watch and the 73 minutes flew by as my mind never got past one topic. What the heck is wrong with humanity when travesty of this magnitude can happen within the walls of the athletic department at Penn State.
My wife and I are blessed with five beautiful children. Four of them are under the age of 12. Over the past week they have heard the words “child rape” more than I hope they ever hear it over the remainder of their lifetimes. I am a believer that every time something bad in the world is at the top of every newscast, there is a way to make it a “teaching moment” for my children. This one has been the hardest and most difficult news story to attempt to explain to my young girls; much less make it a teachable moment. However, we sat them down and explained that no matter where they are…whether its at church, at camp, at school, anywhere…. they are never ever under any circumstance accept an invitation from an adult to leave their friends and be alone with them. Always ask to bring a friend. NO MATTER WHAT. They all nodded their heads in understanding with wide eyes. It made me sick to my stomach to be trying to explain this to my precious 6 year old baby girl. But, as they go out into this ever-sickening world, they need to hear it from me. You just don’t know what tomorrow brings.
I am a huge college football fan and my blood bleeds Crimson – The U of Alabama. Back in September, I was fortunate to spend the weekend in State College, PA and attend the Penn State / Alabama football game with my brother and sister-in-law. I am a lover of the “cathedrals of the game” and Beaver Stadium is one of those stadiums that I have always dreamed of watching a football game. What a weekend. A huge Bama victory but what I will remember are the people of Pennsylvania.
I was amazed at how nice everyone was to us from the moment we sat foot in the city; even the tipsy PSU alums at the bars on College Ave. They all asked about the damage and devastation from the April tornados in Alabama. They all talked of how great it was that our schools were competing against each other this early in the season. They asked if we were having a good time. They loved hearing how we were loving State College. They were very proud of their town..their university. Many talked about what a wonderful time they had in Tuscaloosa the year before.
From the moment I had secured the tickets and the hotel for this game I had looked
forward to one particular bucket list thing. An early morning run on gameday around the entire campus. I was training for a marathon and had received a wonderful running plan from Lily Matusiak (OAR – Autism Research Running Director) and Penn State Alum. She was so excited that I was going to experience her beloved campus. And it was a rave run; definitely one of my favorites ever.
Running down Allerton St from the hotel, I turned on Beaver Ave…ran its length and then ran down College Ave and then into the main campus area. I passed the famous “lion statue” and The Creamery. Then as the sun was beginning to rise I ran towards Beaver Stadium and stopped in awe as I arrived at its gates. It is a magnificent structure that seats well over 105,000 fans and in the fog it was spectacular with the rising sun as its backdrop.
Hundreds of tents were erected and students were still sleeping. They had camped all week for the opportunity to get the best seats in the PSU student section. This camping area is known as “Paternoville”. I spoke to several of the bleary-eyed kids who knew their football. They also loved their coach. I asked them if they thought that this was the last year for the 84 year old Coach Paterno. All of them had the same answer – “only if he says it is”.
As I began the 6 mile run back to my hotel I passed hundreds of tailgates being erected throughout the campus. Even though I was wearing my Bama t-shirt I was getting waves and smiles. A lot of “Welcome to Penn State!!” at me as I passed them. I stopped at one particular tailgate that was already grilling chicken. They had a huge clear container with a large sign on it “Donate for Alabama Tornado Relief”. I thanked the man who was manning the grill for what he was doing for our state. He smiled and said it was the least he could do. We then had a 10 minute conversation about the great games between our schools and the respect we have for one another. And for probably the 100th time I’d heard it in 24 hours – “the respect we have for you is because of the respect and friendship that Coach Paterno and Coach Bryant had for each other back in the day.” They so love Coach Joe Paterno.
Their love for their coach is hard to understand. Unless you are a life-long Alabama fan. We can relate. I know I can.
I grew up in Hamilton, Alabama. A very small town tucked in the northwestern corner of the state that made its living from farming and building mobile homes. Only 85 miles from Tuscaloosa, I learned early how important Alabama football was to my family, to my town, to my state. I also learned early in life how important Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was to everyone. I remember my daddy telling me that the Bear could walk on water. I believed it.
I will never forget my first Alabama game as a child. It was in November of 1972 at Legion Field in Birmingham. I was 7 years old. My dad purchased 2 of those crimson “A” felt cowboy hats and I remember how great it was to have that on my head. LSU was ranked #6 in the nation and led by Bert Jones at QB. Alabama was undefeated and #2 in the nation and led by RB Wilbur Jackson, QB Terry Davis an OL John Hannah. I knew every players name and number by heart and most of the statistics. Alabama won the game 21-7.
But the thrill for me at that game was my father taking me by the hand and leading me down to the endzone fence before the game. The Bear was leaning against the goalposts wearing his houndstooth hat intensely watching the pregame drills by his Crimson Tide. I was only about 10 yards away from him. I remember being so nervous when he glanced our way and he smiled as the cameras clicked. I was hooked for life and knew at the age of 7 where I was going to college.
Coach Bryant retired following the 1982 season after leading Bama to 6 national championships. Only 28 days after announcing his retirement, he died of a massive heart attack in Tuscaloosa. I was 17 years old and remember it like it was yesterday. The entire state was in mourning for several days. I cried. I loved the Bear.
Coach Paterno has had the same effect on Penn State University and I can’t imagine how shocked their fans are today. These are blue collar supporters and good people who never in their wildest dreams could imagine this man being a part of the worst imaginable scandal to ever enter into college athletics. Penn State football and Coach Paterno have been in the same sentence for over 40 years. I imagine the thousands of them going to Beaver Stadium as kids and getting chills at the site of the Penn State team taking the field led out by Paterno; just as I did with the Bear.
I can’t imagine the sick feeling they have now. The confusion – dismay – anger at the man who they have held on such a pedastal – a man that has been what is right about college football for so long. How insane is it to now be told that yes, Coach Paterno did indeed know that one of his assistants – one of the men who he attributes a lot of his own success, had sexually assaulted a child .. a 10 year old boy in the shower in the athletic building. The possibility that he not only knew but helped in a coverup to protect his legacy and not the children who were being victimized by this monster is still unimaginable.
I remember all of the faces of the people that we met on that beautiful day in State College. The kindness that we received unlike any game trip I had ever taken. I feel for them. I feel for them as they must somehow attempt to explain this to their own children.
The children who have been violated need justice. I pray that they receive it and I pray that those who enabled this to happen will pay a heavy price. Even Coach Paterno who was heard saying this week “I wish I had done more”. Sickening.
It makes me so angry. Everyday has brought more disgusting, vile accusations against Sandusky. Stephen King couldn’t write a horror story to this magnitude.
May God heal the children who have been sexually violated by Jerry Sandusky. May those who enabled this to happen over many years be held accountable and pay the price. Even if that person is Joe Paterno.