As kids, our parents warned us that who we hang out with is important. We could be great kids who don’t cause a lick of trouble or do anything illegal or questionable, but if you hang around with the wrong kids, kids who have reputations for drinking, using drugs, getting into trouble, etc., you will get labeled as a bad kid. Guilt by association. “That’s not fair!” our teenage selves complained. “We aren’t doing anything wrong, so why should we be treated that way? Our friendships shouldn’t be a reflection on who we are as individuals.”
Except, as you know, to see someone as an individual and not in group mentality rarely happens. It is easier that way.
That’s what has happened to the Penn State community. A society has decided we are guilty by association. Jerry Sandusky was one of us — not just a football coach, but a Penn State alumnus. Tim Curley, same deal, just substitute AD for coach. Spanier, well, he was an outsider (and I will touch on my feelings about Spanier), but he was our leader and guiding force. We loved Spanier (said the press). And Joe. Joe was all-knowing. Joe ran the entire town (said the press). Nothing happened without him knowing about it (said the press) and Penn Staters loved Joe.
Because of that, everyone who has ever attended Penn State, or professes to be a Penn State fan, is guilty of Sandusky’s crimes by association. We are not allowed to defend our University because if we do, we support pedophiles and child rape. If we say that Joe Paterno has gotten screwed by the media and the public, we don’t give a damn about the victims, we only care about football. Guilt by association. And we’re sick of it.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t supported the victims first and foremost. But I am going to throw in something that might be unpopular — there are a lot of people around here who know exactly who the victims are, and while what Jerry did to them is disgusting, there is a lot more about those stories that hasn’t been revealed. (Actually, Victim 1 revealed quite a bit in his book about what happened behind the scenes.)
But what happened shocked us. It disgusted us. And we had to digest the whole of what happened. On a writing board I participate in, there is a rejoinder used quite often — we are entitled to our feelings and reactions, no matter what else is happening in the world. (Although there were people on that writing board who ignored that rejoinder when it came to Penn State, I noticed. We weren’t allowed to react or have feelings or be confused, I guess.) Our feelings and reactions may not have come off well at first (I dare any of you to deal with the shock and horror and come off well), but we rebounded. We have done more for victims of sexual abuse than anybody; for example, raising $500,000 in the weeks following the scandal explosion, and the continuing funds raised for RAINN. Penn Staters spring into action. We do something.
And yet, we remain guilty by association. Young people who are new alumni looking for jobs find themselves facing prejudice or ridicule because of the school on their diploma. Cars displaying PSU stickers have been keyed or had rocks thrown through windows. On comment boards, we are referred to as Pedo State and if you wear a Penn State shirt in certain areas, someone will ask you if you had sex with boys in the shower.
One man was found guilty. We don’t know the truth of what Spanier, et. al. have done because their court appearances haven’t happened yet. The Freeh Report is not the truth or accurate. But no matter what the court finds in their cases, this much is true — the Penn State community is not guilty. We committed no crime. We are good people who have been horrified by the actions of a man we once respected and we are guilty of nothing except loving our University.