As a life-long Penn State fan, it was hard to watch the A&E IndieFilms documentary Happy Valley. The only thing harder was trying to go through the thoughts and memories that it stirred.
For so many and for so long, doing things the right way and the Penn State way were the same thing. If there were a collegiate program that was the gold standard and ideal of all others it was Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions. Questions of character were never asked because there was an untarnished record that was the dichotomy of programs like Miami, Oklahoma, and others with tainted pasts. Then came the day in 2011 when part of the great mountain crashed through the crystal castle.
Many remember, and try to forget, the day in different ways. I was out drinking with friends that evening but one of our friend’s had not joined us and after a period of time we took it upon ourselves to pay him a visit. After our normal exchanges and revelry, he handed me his laptop saying only ‘you need to read this’. I could only read the headline and first few sentences before handing it back telling him ‘I can’t read this now’. The shock of the few words I read nearly jarred me back into sobriety. I finished out the night but I knew the morning would come and more of those terrible words would meet me.
Taking what little courage I could have with an early morning hangover, I took to my laptop and found the very article that my friend had tried to show me the night before. If it had been a joke, it was the most unfunny thing ever done but I had to take doubt that national media would be in on my friend’s joke. First my thoughts told me that nothing had been proven. Then my thoughts rang with doubts that so many could be lying. Finally I realize, the dream was over.
The knife in my gut hung out my back and I was paralyzed. There was little if any way to deny that the empire that once thumbed its nose at others had firmly planted its thumb somewhere else. As for any pain I or any other outsider felt it was nothing when viewed against that of Sandusky’s victims. Any comparison would be like comparing a match to the sun and nothing can stop their pain from burning.
Beyond the atrocities that Sandusky committed, what strikes me most in this film is that either some people just don’t understand or perhaps I don’t. People felt that the NCAA sanctions were some affront to them and that they had no right to levy any sanctions. As far as I can tell, no matter what the NCAA did they would be attacked. The cornered rat struck and landed a hard blow. Time has shown that the blow has been lessened but many still feel the NCAA to have over-reached. Others went on about the reputation and identity of Penn State and the community. This mob-enduced, self-centered mentality perplexes me as to how it is relevant given the gravity of the situation as a whole.
Throughout the entire film, the statements and behaviors of the Paterno family are the most confounding to me. Interviews with the widow and sons seem to ring of statements meant to deflect any wrong doing or blame from the Paterno name. I understand that abusers the like of Sandusky are deviously clever at hiding their activities from others and that anyone could miss the evil being perpetrated. However, that is not the point to be made here, rather it is the fact that when presented with an eye-witness report of abuse Paterno, McQueary, Penn State administrators, and perhaps others failed to act. If the family would have been more contrite, there may have been some empathy on my part. How Jay Paterno feels that he can tell his children that their grandfather did the right thing in reference to these events I may never understand. Joe Paterno passed before ever publicly clarifying his involvement so we may never have a true understanding.
My Catholic upbringing taught me to forgive and forget but I’ve never been very good at that. On some level I can forgive Sandusky for being human and sinning but in no way can I forgive all the evil he placed upon others. As for forgetting, the intellectual side of me is reminded that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. These events and tortures should never be repeated thus they can never be forgotten.
A calm may never come to me regarding these events. I watch the games but I don’t feel the same. The players criss-cross the field but pass like ghost in my eyes. I hear the crowd roaring but it rings like faded echoes in my ears. There will never be that wonder and awe that I felt ever since my first Penn State memories of the 1983 Sugar Bowl. If ever there is someone who can give me word of reason or explanation as what to think, I would love to buy you the beverage of your choice and engage in long conversation.
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A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.