The gym was silent. Everyone was impressed. But the thing I noticed most as he strutted around gasping for air was his Penn State University T-shirt.
"That's right," I thought as I rode the elliptical machine at my local gym a few days ago. "That's how we do. We are Penn State."
It was the first time since 2011, when the horrific Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal
was revealed, that I felt any pride or connection to my alma mater. In 2012, Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was sentenced to
30-60 years in prison for the sexual abuse of 10 boys after tearful testimony from his victims.
Since then, I've wanted no association with the school or the culture that valued winning football games above protecting children from rape. And when my son was accepted to Penn State that year, we tossed the acceptance letter in the trash. My own Penn State sweatshirt was stuffed deep in the back of the closet.
I am a Nittany Lion and I was ashamed.
Sadly, my new-found pride was short-lived. In an attempt to restore the university's reputation, Pennsylvania state officials led by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord, filed a suit against the NCAA. They wanted all sanctions the NCAA placed against the school be lifted. The NCAA had reached beyond its authority in punishing Penn State, they argued.
In other words, their lawsuit had nothing to do with the boys who were raped or abused by Sandusky. It had nothing to do with the fact that head football coach Joe Paterno, who died in 2012
, and others at the school had been alerted to this abuse as early as 1998 and did very little to make sure it stopped. Nope, Corman and others wanted redemption for Penn State, based on a loophole over the authority of the NCAA to punish the football program.
The NCAA caved, ruling last week to restore Penn State's 112 wins wiped out during the Sandusky scandal, including the 111 wins erased from the record of head football coach Joe Paterno -- all the victories after the first time police were called by a mother reporting that Sandusky had showered with her 10-year-old son on the Penn State campus back in 1998.
And the $60 million dollar fine the NCAA levied against the school? Well, now instead of the NCAA collecting the fine and spending the dollars nationally, the ruling allows the university to keep the money but commit to spending the $60 million in Pennsylvania to fund in-state child abuse programs only. Other sanctions lifted
by the NCAA ruling, include ending a five-year probation period and scholarship and transfer rules.
We teach our kids when they do wrong to face up to it, take their punishment without complaint or excuses and move on. Then, go out into the world and show everyone you are better than your lowest moments. It takes courage, integrity and leadership.
That is what Penn State needed to do. And so, for me, this is not a proud day for Penn State.
We've cheated the system, bullied our way back into the record books. And we've told the world once again that in Happy Valley winning is more important than anything. All those boys who were raped? Well, that's not our problem. What's important is making sure coach Paterno's 409-136-3 is restored.
"The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth," said Mister Mann Frisby, a Penn State alum, and track coach for more than 11 years.
"The NCAA sanctions athletes for the smallest things -- you take a parent to lunch, it's a violation. You help a student-athlete pay for airfare for their parent to see a game, it's a violation. Students lose eligibility, sports programs are punished. And now, the NCAA is lifting sanctions after boys were molested and raped on his watch and he did little or nothing to stop it. This sends a terrible message," said Frisby, who was the first person in his family to graduate from college.
This weekend, social media is abuzz with Penn State fans applauding the NCAA decision, feeling vindicated. For many others, me included, this ruling and the reaction from the Nittany Lion Nation wipes away any bonhomie the university was gaining over the past three years.
"It is hard to believe that the NCAA and the school could take the most nauseating, the most horrifying, the most indefensible institutionalization of corruption in American sports -- the Jerry Sandusky scandal -- and make it worse, but today they just did," said ESPN's Keith Olbermann said
on his show Friday.
It seemed that the university was trying to clean up its act. Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier had been fired. Both of those things needed to happen. The board of trustees had ushered in changes. The Sandusky trial ended after months of testimony almost too unbearable to watch as abuse victim after abuse victim told their painful stories about being raped and molested by Sandusky. A new coach was brought in and the team started winning.
That's how healing happens; how forgiveness happens. One day at a time, trying to do better, be better than you were yesterday. There is no short cut on the road to redemption. Even coach Paterno knew that:
"Success without honor
is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." -- Joe Paterno
JoePa may be back atop the record books as the "winningest coach ever," but he was not an honorable man -- not when it came to putting the lives and safety of children above football. And no NCAA ruling can change that history.