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Culture of complicity at Penn State ruins lives and legacies

Penn State football rocked by scandal. Legacy and tradition destroyed
Penn State football rocked by scandal. Legacy and tradition destroyed
Ben Stanfield, Flickr

The breaking news from this weekend about the child sexual abuse by former Penn State Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky rocked the world of college football. The complicity of the entire administration, including the silence of Joe Paterno, in covering up these crimes must surely be reminiscent of the complicity of Ohio State's athletics department in the recent scandal with the Buckeye's football team, though the scandal at Penn State touches on far worse actions.

For fans and alumni of Penn State, the news of the deafening silence about the evils perpetrated by Sandusky and the culture of complicity in hiding these crimes from the authorities and the outside world was certainly more shocking than hearing that some players traded autographs for tattoos. As one of those alumni, I have become disgusted with this conspiracy, so I boxed up all of my Penn State paraphernalia and mailed it to the Board of Trustees at Penn State. Included in that box was the following letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

Enclosed please find a number of Penn State branded items, ranging from clothing to automotive decorations. I send these to you as I can no longer display them as badges of allegiance to and pride in my Alma Mater.

In the wake of the allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky, I was, as I’m sure most in the Penn State community were, sickened. However, it is the reports of the culture of complicity that truly spurs the return of these items. As the abuses witnessed by Sandusky were buried by member after member of the hierarchy at Penn State, no one, not one single member those charged with running the University, did the right thing. Because of that, this predator was able to destroy the lives of even more children.

How do these actions measure up to the words of the Penn State Alma Mater?

May no act of ours bring shame,

To one heart that loves thy name.

May our lives but swell thy fame,

Dear old State, dear old State.

The acts of Sandusky certainly bring shame to the entire Penn State community, but horrible as those acts were, had they been brought to light and the monster been brought to justice in the first instance, that shame would be fleeting. Instead, the actions of all involved have magnified this shame and transferred some burden of guilt and evil from one individual who happened to be associated with the University to the institution as a whole. Today I would be ashamed to wear the Penn State shirt that I would have proudly borne at any other time, even here in the heart of Buckeye country.

The anger, pain, and shame that members of the Penn State community feel as this story comes to light can never approach the levels of damage done to those children. To even compare them would be both futile in how meager our pain is and insulting to those who were abused. However, it is this lesser pain that is in your power to assuage. Penn State already turned its back on the victims of abuse. The only thing that is left to be seen is what you decide to do in its wake.

The failure to take these allegations to the proper authorities was a failure of the entire system at Penn State. The solution must be equally as systemic.

As a parting thought, I cast my mind to those Saturday afternoons where Penn State fans gather in a 107,000-seat cathedral to glorify the men directly involved in this scandal. I cast my mind to being a part of this crowd and casting my voice in with theirs in the call and response: “We are…Penn State!” We are…Penn State! It’s such a simple and direct statement, yet to many it means so much. We repeatedly stake our claim to being part of a whole, to being part of each victory and defeat, to being part of a legacy and a tradition. The actions of all involved in this scandal have destroyed that legacy and spit upon that tradition. Today, we are Penn State no longer.

Today, we are…nothing.


Andrew Kennett

BS Mechanical Engineering, 2001

BA History, 2004


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