I haven’t posted much on my site because I have been moving into a house, which the wife decided needed painted on top of moving. Then our closing got delayed by 10-days so it was a complete nightmare moving into a house and painted it when I didn’t own it yet.
However, with the Freeh report coming out tomorrow, I wanted to finally finish this story and finally post it. I wanted to explain what it has been like for me, living in Bellefonte and owning a Penn State sports-themed restaurant in State College since November.
We’ll start with the initial “leak” of the Sandusky indictment. The indictment was scheduled to be released on November 8, 2011, but a clerical error made it immediately available. However, unlike most people state, the report did not come out on Saturday November 5, 2011. It actually became available at 2:26pm on Friday, November 4, 2011, and made it to ESPN.com by 6:30pm.
I actually read parts of the indictment while driving from Kent, OH to Ann Arbor, MI. I was at the Central Michigan at Kent State game with Paul Swaney of StadiumJourney.com when a link to the report came across twitter. Since I was going to the Ball State at Eastern Michigan game the next morning, we drove to Ann Arbor that evening and I read it along the way.
On Saturday morning, I got up early. I skimmed through twitter and things were still pretty quiet. I made a stop at Michigan to take some pictures of the big house before heading 15-minutes down the road to Ypsilanti for the game at Eastern Michigan. By the time I settled into the press box right on the 50-yard line, talked to the Bills scout seated next to me and got on twitter, the story was really starting to turn into the wildfire it would become.
I remember it vividly because it was also National College Football Day and I was reading all sorts of “Paterno must go” tweets as I went back to my car to get my pin the Football Writers Association of America sent me to celebrate the day. This was also the day of the LSU at Alabama game, so the full media fury toward the Penn State program was tempered somewhat till late in the evening.
I ate some Buffalo Wild Wings and headed down to the field. I concentrated on taking photos of the game and didn’t even get on twitter until half time when I went back upstairs to get a drink. The few minutes that I was on, I quickly realized that the Sandusky indictment was going to be the end of Joe Paterno and Penn State football as I’ve always known it.
I went back down to the field and talked some with a photographer for mlive.com between shots. The game wound up being decided on a last second field goal attempt, just like the game at Kent State the previous evening. I quickly made my way back to the press box, gathered my stuff, and hurried out of the stadium.
I was trying to get to Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA for a hockey game versus UConn for a venue review for StadiumJourney.com. I tried to read up on twitter during my drive, but it was getting dark and safety was my main concern, so I only got caught up to about 3pm on my timeline before I made it to the hockey game half way through the first period.
Between play I caught up on stories and thoughts from my follows until the LSU/Alabama game started since I was recording it and wanted to avoid knowing the score. The hockey game was extremely entertaining and was scoreless till the middle of the third period. Mercyhurst eventually won 2-0 and I was finally making my way back to State College.
Little did I know exactly how much my town, University and favorite football team would change over the next few days. I worked Sunday morning at 8:30am, although I didn’t show up till around 9 as I watched the LSU/Alabama game before going in to work. Since I get to work with my wife, and she doesn’t mind sports, we talked a lot about the indictment and what was going to happen.
The Sandusky indictment was the only thing our customers talked about all day. In fact, I’m pretty sure there was no other topic of conversation discussed the entire day. No discussions about who drank too much the night before or who did a “walk of shame” that morning. No bad pick-up lines or stories about getting arrested the night before. The day was all Sandusky, all the time.
Sunday night there was an emergency Board of Trustees meeting on what to do. I decided to go to old main and join the media stakeout. It was a boring and cold wait, just to get the customary “no comment.” This was the night that Tim Curley was put on paid-leave and Gary Schultz went back into retirement. Interesting to me was how only about 15-20 “local” media bothered to come.
The national media started to show up in droves Monday morning. Reporters came in and asked both employees and customers for an on-the-record reaction. No one seemed willing. We actually put a policy in place that barred employees from talking to the media about the indictment.
This was done not to limit free speech, but because our restaurant was a main focus of the media scrutiny. Our entire 120-plus item menu has every sandwich and salad named after someone related to Penn State and/or Centre County. I was afraid that this would result in too much media attention.
However I quickly learned that most of the media didn’t do any kind of research on the town. They just randomly wondered around, trying to gather a “town reaction” story. A simple, uncreative and boring story that could easily been written by a pool reporter and syndicated across the AP wire.
Reporter after reporter came in and asked the same canned questions, to which I polity declined comment. That is until Bill Reiter from Fox Sports came in Monday afternoon.
Reiter had specific, pointed questions about our menu. What would we do with the Mike McQueary sandwich? What about the Paterno salad, the Graham Spanier sandwich or the Tim Curley sandwich? Was their ever a Sandusky item?
The answers were simple. The McQueary, Paterno, Spanier and Curley items would stay for now, but I didn’t know what would happen in the future. There had never been a Sandusky sandwich so I had nothing to worry about there.
What I didn’t tell Reiter was about the bad jokes people insisted on peppering me, my wife and the staff with. Everybody was a comedian. They all had some sort of joke about what the Sandusky sandwich should have been. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to come up with the things said, but let’s just say 99-percent of the jokes involved sausage.
To make things worse, we received all sorts of random phone calls and after-hours messages left on the machine. Here is an example that is safe for kids to hear:
By Tuesday afternoon the University was in full press relations meltdown mode. Spanier gave his ill-advised statement backing Curley and Schultz, while forcing the cancelation of the Paterno press conference less than an hour from the scheduled start time.
Meanwhile Scott Paterno showed why he is a failed politician by parading his dad out into the driveway, promising a statement “shortly” only to back away when the media actually offered a place to host a question and answer session. The next day Joe Paterno did issue a short statement, in which he said he “wished he had done more” and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about firing him, he was going to retire at the end of the season.
The cancelation of the Paterno press conference, and the subsequent Paterno statement, were power moves by Paterno and Spanier which showed exactly how much they despised the authority of the other.
A few hours later both Spanier and Paterno were fired as a Penn State student yelled to the trustees that the “town was going to burn.” And burn it did. The firing of Paterno sparked a small, but organized riot; a dumb, but typical college student reaction. Unfortunately for the students, and the University, it was the worst possible reaction and the riots were widely panned by the rest of the world.
For me, around work and meeting various media members, such as John Walters of The Daily, I was trying to figure out my own feelings and reactions to the entire situation.
How could I continue to support the school, or the athletic department if they allowed these terrible things to happen? Was the entire “grand experiment” and the “Paterno way” a charade? How do you separate the hundreds or thousands of people who did nothing wrong from the few who screwed up as bad as a human being can? How do I face my friend who was sexually-abused as a kid? Do I have to watch what I say when around my fraternity brother who is married to Spanier’s daughter? How do I react to the constant comments and bad jokes?
One particular piece of advice that weighted heavily in my mind came from a Penn State coach. This person basically explained that I should support those who had nothing to do with the situation and that I should have faith that those who screwed up would be ousted and punished. If not, then it was a fair reaction to stop donating and attending sporting events.
On that advice, I decided to renew my football, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s hockey season tickets. I have also attended softball, baseball and men’s lacrosse and volleyball games and I have even taken my newborn son with me.
I’ve read the messages from detractors that say if I donate or attend games then I am supporting what happened. If this is true, then does that make every person who has donated to or tithed at a Catholic church a supporter of sexual abuse? No, of course not, it isn’t that black and white. You can support the victims and the organization without supporting those who did unthinkable things.
This is the reason I bought tickets this year was to support the student-athletes and coaches who did nothing wrong, but have had to listen to, read and be subjected to the taunts, jokes and horrific emails from those who were outraged by the situation.
While I am not able to post them here, I have read and heard the death threats, hate mail and messages directed to 18-22 year old athletes and members of the non-football coaching staffs. I understand the outrage because I am outraged, but the outrage should be directed toward those who failed so horrifically.
After talking to a few people who I trust very much, I think I know what will be reported tomorrow. Some people are going to be exposed as pushovers who were nothing but “yes-men” despite being the boss. Others are going to have their once-infallible reputations ruined forever. Still others will be exposed as either enablers or the most oblivious person ever.
I stand by my article from November in which I said that Paterno and everyone else involved should be fired. I am most curious what recommendations the Freeh report makes on how the University should distance themselves from those who failed. For instance, what happens to Curley, who is still on paid-leave and Spanier, who is actually still scheduled to teach this fall?
Those recommendations and others, such as if the school should find an athletic director and president from outside of Penn State will ultimately determine if I continue to donate to the school and buy tickets.
It is very surreal being a fan of the school that was labeled “the model NCAA institution” a year ago to now being under fire from so many angles.
One thing I have had a hard time dealing with is the constant comments and “trollin” online. I always wondered what it was like to be a Florida State fan and have to listen to “Free Shoes University” jokes nearly 20-years after it happened. Or say a Clemson fan who has to see the constant “and WVU just scored again” jokes every day on various social media platforms.
I think the thing that bothers me the most is when it comes from those who get paid to write feel the need to mix the snarky comments with real news. I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for getting into a “twitter war” with those who feel the need to take shots at those who continue to be Penn State fans. I guess it is something that maybe I will learn to deal with better over time. Until then, I hope they forgive me if I am sensitive to certain comments.
Ultimately as this saga drags on for many more years, I hope I make the right decisions as I try to support those who did nothing wrong while hoping those who failed are dealt the appropriate punishment. With any luck, those outside of Happy Valley will understand that Penn State fans and alumni hate what has happened, even if they don’t understand why we continue to love our school and attend football games.