Penn State scandal reaction bewilders some outsiders

PHILADELPHIA Fri Nov 11, 2011 10:06am EST

Penn State University students take to the streets to express their support for long time football coach Joe Paterno, after it was announced that Paterno had been fired, in State College, Pennsylania, November 9, 2011.  REUTERS/Pat Little

Penn State University students take to the streets to express their support for long time football coach Joe Paterno, after it was announced that Paterno had been fired, in State College, Pennsylania, November 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Pat Little

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The contrast could not be more stark amid one of the biggest scandals in U.S. college sports history.

After beloved Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was summarily fired on Wednesday night, students poured into the streets of State College, Pennsylvania to protest. They shouted "We love Joe," and a few overturned a television van to show anger at the news media.

Many Americans outside Pennsylvania seemed bewildered by the reaction, and viewed the emotional outburst as misplaced. The focus, they said, should be on the allegations of sex abuse of children by an assistant coach during Paterno's watch.

"It is really sad for the little kids who were thrown under the bus," said David Spratt, a web site editor in Michigan, referring to the victims of alleged serial sexual abuse by Paterno's longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky's attorney has said his client is innocent.

It is hard to overstate what Paterno meant to Penn State and Pennsylvania, local residents said. Before the scandal, many would have suggested he was the most influential and admired person in the state of Pennsylvania.

Generations of Penn State graduates grew up with "JoePa" and his football machine, which for 46 years brought championships and pride to the university tucked away in the Nittany Mountains of central Pennsylvania.

"It was just a shame how they went about firing Joe," said Jon Reyes, a 1998 Penn State graduate who stopped by Paterno's house on Thursday morning to show his support. "They really disrespected all the years of service he's given."

Beyond Pennsylvania, Bob Schaper, a writer in Rockford, Illinois, just could not get over the fact that no one stopped the abuse when, according to a grand jury report, a graduate student saw a 10-year-old boy being sexually assaulted in the football facility at Penn State in 2002.

"I just don't understand it," he told Reuters. "I mean if you walk into a shower anywhere and you see a man raping a 10-year-old boy, and you don't want to get physically involved, don't you immediately go to your cell phone and call 911?"

Jane Allyn Piliavan, a sociology professor emeritus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison described the whole scandal as "totally bizarre," but said the culture of sports may help explain it.

College athletic departments in the United States -- essentially multi-million-dollar businesses that keeps influential alumni engaged with the university -- are a world unto themselves.

"They get to think quite often that they have different rules," because they are so important to the university and its public image, Piliavan said.

For students, alumni and fans of a university, important bonds are formed that last for the rest of their lives. Paterno was a major symbol of Penn State for them, she said.

"I think they were just reacting to the emotional loss of something that is very important to them," she said.

People generally feel good about themselves when they identify with a group that they see having the same positive characteristics as they do, said University of Wisconsin Psychology Professor Markus Brauer.

"If there is an external threat toward a group member or somebody tarnishes the group, then there is a problem and then the group can have quite strong reactions," he said.

The mentality is: "There are bad guys from outside and they are unjustly treating a member of our group," he said.

"And that seems to be what is going on here."

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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Comments (5)
erica100 wrote:
I’d like to argue that I am from PA and feel nothing but disgust for Paterno. To state that he is the most influential and admired person in PA is a little ridiculous…really only those who love football or love Penn State have affection for him. I only had a vague notion of who he was before this scandal. I have plenty of friends who went to Penn State and they feel the same disgust, horror, and frustration as others. Please don’t claim the entirety of PA supports Paterno or anyone who ignores the suffering and exploitation of children.

Nov 11, 2011 10:19am EST  --  Report as abuse
LLCard wrote:
so the focus should be on the allegations of sex abuse as you point out in this paragraph (which I agree)

“Many Americans outside Pennsylvania seemed bewildered by the reaction, and viewed the emotional outburst as misplaced. The focus, they said, should be on the allegations of sex abuse of children by an assistant coach during Paterno’s watch”

However the focus of the media has been on Paterno’s Ouster and not the Sex Abuse.

The media should make up their mind.

Sandusky, Curley and Schultz should be locked up for some serious long time for what happened.

Had Curley and Schultz told anybody like McQeary and Paterno did, then Sandusky would have been in Jail back in 2002 and all the victims since would not have been victims.

If the Police Department would have done something in 1998, this would all be a moot point.

It seems like a witch hunt going on now with anybody even having slight knowledge of the situation, getting hanged.

Now it looks like the media is asking for Penn State to abolish their football program.

How about abolish the police department that investigate in 1998?

Nov 11, 2011 1:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JayneBirkin wrote:
The police did investigate properly in 1998, but the prosecutor refused to bring the case to trial. The same prosecutor went missing in 2005, only his laptop (minus the hard drive) was found in a creek. So we’ll never know the truth.

Nov 11, 2011 2:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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