Sweet, sweet Saturday football.

Saturday marks the first time since 2000 the Penn State Nittany Lions will open a season away from Beaver Stadium, and I extremely fine with that, as I WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE. The Lions will be locking horns with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the dirty Jerz (I’ve never ridden a train to a game before…).

It has been 272 days since Penn State has played an official football game (not counting the Blue and White game, even though I showed up with my buddy at our Penn State bar in NYC, demanding they put the scrimmage on). The now very-much-revered Bill O’Brien enters his second season as head coach, and something feels very familiar… oh yes, Penn State once again does not have a specified starting quarterback.

Which young skinny boy is ready?

Will it be Christian Hackenberg (true freshman, left) or Tyler Ferguson (sophomore, right)? Neither has played a D1 game (or has even taken a snap in a D1 game) in his life, which might be O’Brien’s hesitation to throw all of his blue and white eggs in one of their proverbial baskets. But what is this, the start of the 2011 season?! Cough, Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin, cough. We all know how that turned out, but it was severely cringeworthy for a while. No matter what happened in 2010-2011, B.O.B. is not revealing his starting quarterback until the first offensive snap tomorrow.

Quarterback situation or not, tomorrow marks another step forward. The Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions still weigh heavily on the program, but a year passing makes a difference. The courage and heart of 2012’s seniors and everyone else who stayed, coupled with O’Brien’s heightened prominence has helped nudge Penn State football out from under the thick dark clouds of last year.

We Are.

 

 

Notes on a Scandal.

I have stayed silent (online) as everything connected to Penn State was coming to a head. I am still grappling with all that I feel. But I want, no need to say something. The problem is that I have so many things and groups I’d like to address – from the former and current Penn State leaders I am disappointed in and ashamed of, to the angry mob wanting only blood from Penn State instead of support for the victims, to my friends and family.

In light of the sanctions that were leveled against Penn State this morning, Monday, July 23, 2012 by NCAA officials – specifically NCAA President Mark Emmert – I want to first address the sanctions on a critical level, something befitting my sports journalism degree.

In an unprecedented power move, Emmert dropped the proverbial hammer on Penn State, including scholarship losses, a multiyear ban in postseason competition, a $60 million fine (which will thankfully go to foundations to help child sexual assault/abuse victims), and the nullification of all wins between 1998 and 2011.

Sources say the sanctions came almost solely from Emmert, who appealed to the NCAA Board of Directors to provide him power status that does not currently exist for an NCAA president.

Let me be clear – Emmert based his sanctions on emotion and public uproar, as well as his personal interpretations of the findings in the Freeh Report (Freeh’s investigation was set in motion by Penn State, not the NCAA). Emmert did not call for an NCAA investigation, there were no hearings before the Committee on Infractions or letters of inquiry, there was no discourse between the NCAA and Penn State to allow for a formal response. Most importantly, the criminal cases are ongoing, evidence is still being uncovered – but Emmert did not want to wait.

From Dan Wetzel on Yahoo Sports, “this isn’t how the Association has conducted business in decades. Toes were stepped on.”

“The man with a Ph.D in public administration just went pseudo dictator in a move right out of the playbook of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig.”

To expand on the Goodell thought, it should be noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell operates as the leader of a private business. Therefore he can pull those power moves. The NCAA is what you could call (and what SI.com’s Andy Staples does call) a “representative democracy”. That is, the members, consisting mainly of public universities, make the rules.

With today’s ruling and the complete lack of due process, it is no longer clear whether the NCAA is a representative democracy. To quote Staples again, “not if its executive branch has decided that the best way to punish an abuse of absolute power is by granting more absolute power.”

Stewart Mandel writes today on SI.com about the implications of the NCAA’s actions.

“Children were raped. Lives were destroyed. High-level administrators stood back and enabled the crimes. A once-revered coach betrayed his followers.

But the legacy of the Penn State scandal will no longer be Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes or the courageous victims who stood up to him. Thanks to a brazen power play and a carefully orchestrated p.r. extravaganza, this human tragedy will take a backseat over the next four years (or longer) to a more trivial narrative: Whether Penn State football can recover from crippling NCAA sanctions.

“Justice has been served, assuming your idea of justice for rape victims is to deprive a school of its next four Outback Bowl invitations.

“And so, Emmert made sure his organization responded accordingly — even if that meant revoking the traditional due process afforded every other school that’s ever been punished by the NCAA; invoking a nebulous, generalized bylaw about promoting integrity that could easily apply to hundreds of lawbreaking players, coaches and staffers across the country every year; and creating a precedent for dictatorial-like intervention that must now be considered every time a scandal of any proportion arises in college athletics.

Perhaps this truly is a turning point in the history of the NCAA. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era where Batman Emmert flies in and saves the day every time the forces of athletic evil make a mockery of academic virtues.

He better. Otherwise, this will instead prove to be a crowning moment in NCAA hypocrisy.

“‘We don’t see this opening a Pandora’s box at all,’ said Emmert. ‘This was a very distinct and very unique set of circumstances.’

That’s easy to say now. Nothing in the history of NCAA scandals has come close to the level of allowing a serial pedophile free reign to a school’s football facility, and basic faith in humanity makes us inclined to believe that it will never happen again.

But there will undoubtedly be another high-profile college scandal, involving yet another unthinkable scenario, whether it’s three months from now or three years from now. And the precedent has now been set. Will Emmert send that program back to the stone ages, too? Or was this a one-time-only, made-for-TV display of power?

Monday’s one truly punitive action against one of the figures implicated in the Freeh Report was vacating Penn State’s victories from 1998-2011, thus stripping Paterno of 111 wins and demoting him from the sport’s alltime leader to 12th place. It seems fair and just, but here again, the NCAA seemingly rewrote its rulebook on the fly. Traditionally victories are vacated when schools are found to have used ineligible players. Nothing of the sort happened here.

But of course, that didn’t fit Emmert’s message.”

SB Nation adds this – “And please — please — don’t think the public zeal for specifically hurting Nittany Lion football does anything to change the perception that football is more important than everything else. Otherwise, why aren’t the prospect of jail time and/or ruined careers for all living, responsible parties to this debacle, the pending loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in civil litigation and the looming specter of punishment from the Feds not enough?

So what will these punishments accomplish? Yeah, let’s talk about that…

Giving Emmert the power to unilaterally punish Penn State is a step toward making investigations irrelevant. And I mean that in the most frightening, totalitarian sense possible. If the semblance of due process can be thrown out to conveniently hammer a cash cow program — and cripple its surrounding community and its non-revenue sports with a hefty fine — what might happen to a player on the wrong side of Emmert and the NCAA’s agenda?”

I am sure I lost many of those who belong to the angry, bloodthirsty mob, but anyone who truly cares about NCAA athletics should consider this situation critically.

On the other side of all of this is of course, my purely emotional response.

To the leaders of Penn State:

I am gravely disappointed by your leadership and its continuing to fail its community – turning blind eyes on the horrors being committed by Jerry Sandusky then, and not standing up to support all of those who were not involved with what happened now. You and your peers (especially those still sitting on the Board of Directors) are at fault, and yet the entire Penn State community will suffer (for many years) on your behalf. I am glad that at least the $60 million fine will go toward foundations to support/prevent victims of child sexual abuse, because that is at least connected to the real victims in this whole mess (those victims that so many have seem to have forgotten).

Mr. Erickson, in your official statement today you write that “the NCAA ruling holds the University accountable for the failure of those in power to protect children and insists that all areas of the University community are held to the same high standards of honesty and integrity.

It is important to know we are entering a new chapter at Penn State and making necessary changes. We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating philosophy is open, collegial, and collaborative.”

I understand fully well that we are entering a new chapter at Penn State. What I do not understand is why the University has not stood up for those who were and are not responsible, instead of lumping us in with your lot. You call for a culture wherein people aren’t afraid to speak up, so please explain the disconnect. With a sweeping hand, you include all of us in something terrible because that is easier for you. Not making sure Sandusky was immediately held responsible for his heinous acts was (somehow) easier for you. I don’t see any evolution, and this is something I am truly distraught over as an alumnus.

I support the acceptance of the sanctions, as there is really no other course of action for Penn State. Those men can never get back what was stolen from them. End of story. But I implore you as leaders to be better. As time inevitably moves forward, strive to earn the trust of your community, and more importantly, your fellow man. At the very, very least, you owe that to every single one of the victims. Where you and your predecessors failed out of weakness, you must never do so again. We expect so much more from our leaders. As we should.

And finally, to my friends:

I woke up this morning knowing what was coming. I wore a Penn State shirt to work. I will continue to be proud of the student body, alumni, and the fact that in that small town, I met the best people I have ever known (all of you). I am proud of who we became there, are now, and will continue to be…what we all stand for, how we handle ourselves at work and in our communities (always striving to be the absolute best), and how we are extremely passionate about what we believe in.

WE (and I use this loosely to include our comrades across the world) are what made and what continues to make Penn State great. From one of my best friends and fellow alum Pat Carr, “as a Penn Stater I know who the real victims were and are. They are not football fans having to deal with a devastated football program. Penn Staters always remember who the victims are. We are remorseful. We are embarrassed but still proud.”

It is up to us to represent our alma mater with the utmost respect, professionalism and very importantly – heart. We Are.

Love you all.

Cait

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – December 10 Edition

The Good

The National Basketball Association (or NBA for shortsies) announced Thursday (12/8) that, as part of their collective bargaining agreement, they are planning to adopt a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. To boil the jargon down, the new policy’s umbrella will specifically include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation (which does not, however, include gender identity or gender expression). The policy effectively only covers men (gay or bisexual men in the NBA), since no women (gay, straight, or in between) play in the NBA, but this is marked on a human rights level – there exists no legal protections for LGBT employees on a federal level, so private employers have the ability (but not the requirement) to adopt policies that protect said employees from workplace discrimination.

This is fairly HUGE for the NBA to be a part of, as the organization is inherently part of a greater theater of homophobia that exists in professional sports. The National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) opted to include sexual orientation in their respective non-discrimination policies earlier this year as well. Baby steps, but hell, this is progress that is notable. I should also note that several current (and the current part is oh so important) professional athletes have publicly voiced their support of LGBT equality, including the NHL’s Sean Avery (which is probably wildly surprising for some, and not at all for those of you who know he interned in the fashion industry), NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita (and former-NFL-player-now-commentator Michael Strahan), and current NBA point guard extraordinaire Steve Nash. Watch Nash’s video promoting the now-enacted marriage equality law in New York State:

The Bad

Oregon State freshman defensive tackle Fred Thompson, 19, collapsed and passed away Wednesday evening (12/7) while playing basketball at a recreation center on campus. Reports are now coming out that it is likely Thompson suffered a cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that in this case led to death. The 6-foot-4, 317-pound DT had no known heart conditions. Thompson’s 20th birthday would have been this Sunday.  

The Fugly

Jerry Sandusky - Bernie Fine

Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine are still in the news, for absolutely awful reasons. Sandusky was arrested again Wednesday (12/7) and charged with 12 additional counts of child sexual abuse (involving two new alleged victims). Sandusky is now facing more than 50 charges, and yet he was able to post bail (which was only $250,000) on Thursday (12/8). The charges against this man (monster) are HEINOUS, and yet he is able to return home. There is something wrong with this, and it legitimately makes me see red.

Onto Bernie Fine, there is also something so wrong with this – Bernie Fine can’t be charged with child molestation (despite credible accusers) because the statute of limitations has passed. Onondaga County Dist. Atty. William Fitzpatrick said this week that had he learned of Bobby Davis and Mike Lang’s (both step-brothers and former Syracuse ball boys) sexual abuse accusations in 2005, Fine would have been arrested and charged with child molestation.

“Bobby, I’m sorry it took so long,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick also harshly criticized ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard for not turning over a tape recording accuser Bobby Davis had given the news outlets (in which Fine’s wife admits to Davis that she knew what her husband had done to Davis) to the police. Meanwhile, ESPN is still backpedaling as to why they held onto the tape for eight years without doing a damn thing.

Jerry Sandusky is likely going to rot in prison and have hell to pay abuse-wise when he gets there (prisoners are not kind to child molesters). Bernie Fine is likely going to get away with sexual abuse of children. This is fucking ugly, and this is fucking wrong.

 

 


The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – December 2 Edition

Wow, are the Philadelphia Eagles imploding or what? I could also say the same about the Washington Capitals. Rough night for two struggling teams that should be playing a lot better than they are.

The Good

It's been rough.

Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning (who is sorely missed this season by the 0-11 Colts) has been cleared for more intense rehabilitative workouts. Manning’s doctor, Dr. Robert Watkins, said Manning’s neck has, for all intents and purposes (unless those intents and purposes currently include full-speed pro football), healed.

“X-ray and CT examination of the surgical area shows that the fusion performed in September has achieved firm fixation. Peyton will now be allowed to increase the intensity and breadth of his workouts as tolerated. There remains every indication that his recovery will continue,” Watkins said.

Manning, 35, hasn’t practiced since a September 8 spinal fusion, which was meant to repair a damaged nerve in the quarterback’s neck, which affected his throwing arm. Manning has had three neck surgeries in 19 months.

As alluded to above, the Manning-less Colts have broken team streaks of success established in recent years – throw nine straight playoff appearances and nine consecutive 10-win seasons out the door. The Colts, currently in line to pick up Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the first round of the NFL Draft, are 0-11 for the first time in 25 years. Damn.

The Bad
Indiana state high school basketball stand-out Austin Hatch will not be on the basketball court this season. Hatch was involved in a plane crash that killed his father and step-mother, in which Hatch sustained a head injury, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and a broken collarbone. Hatch’s father was flying the plane at the time of the crash. The 6-foot-6 junior had made an early commitment to play for the University of Michigan in 2013. His family has reported that Hatch’s rehabilitation is going very well, but that he needs time and requests privacy in his recovery. The tragedy was the second plane crash that Hatch survived, the first in 2003, during which Hatch’s mother and two siblings were killed. Hatch’s father was flying the plane in the 2003 crash as well.

The Fugly
After years of respect and loyalty to ESPN, I have some major issues connected to the way the network and its commentators & writers have handled the Bernie Fine case juxtaposed against the coverage and scrutiny of dismissed Penn State coach Joe Paterno (in connection to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case). On November 4, the Jerry Sandusky grand jury report was released, and the media (but I’m honing in on ESPN) was whipped into a feeding frenzy involving Joe Paterno’s role in the scandal. A slew of ESPN commentators wrote op-eds and went on-air to vehemently and publicly voice their disapproval of Joe Paterno, saying he failed in his moral obligations, that he just didn’t do enough.

As the Sandusky storm was (briefly) coming off a coverage peak, another child-molestation-accusation-at-a-major-university story broke. (Now former) Syracuse men’s basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine allegedly molested team ball boys over the course of several years. Fine was fired on Sunday (11/27), after ESPN released a recorded phone conversation between first accuser Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife, Laurie Fine, during which Laure Fine admits to Davis that she was aware of the molestation and/or abuse Davis is now accusing her husband of.

Syracuse University officials stated that the tape was never made available to the university, or they would have fired Fine a lot sooner.

In a letter published by USA Today, chancellor Nancy Cantor writes “Mr. Davis didn’t give [the audiotape] to us in 2005, nor did the media, which have acknowledged having it since 2003. Had that tape surfaced in 2003, Fine would have been fired. Had we been given the tape in 2005, we would have gone straight to the authorities.”

ESPN has stated that they did not release the tape when they received it because they could not get anyone to corroborate the story, and they weren’t sure that the female voice in the recording was actually Laurie Fine. The network did not go any further until LAST WEEK, when they turned to a voice-recognition expert to confirm whether the female voice was in fact Laurie Fine (it was).

But for eight years, no one that heard the tape did ANYTHING with it. The network held onto damning evidence for eight years. Yes, there is an argument for the role of the “objective journalist”, that the journalist is obligated to stay out of the story itself. But journalists are also human. And this is not black and white. This is grey. And this had to do with sexualized crimes against children. Why didn’t anyone at ESPN share the recording with police or Syracuse officials?

ESPN commentators were vicious in their scrutiny of Joe Paterno, rightfully so or not. The problem is that the network was guilty of the same thing it was damning Paterno for. Except that Paterno actually did report the alleged abuse to his superior (which he was legally obligated to do). ESPN just didn’t do anything.

The Penn State (Jerry Sandusky) and Syracuse (Bernie Fine) situations are not the same, but I cannot ignore or stay silent about the incredible hypocrisy displayed by ESPN in its coverage and handling of both, especially because the network is now directly tied to the Fine firing. Failed moral obligation by those that preach it. It’s depressing as hell. And mostly because the victims have to suffer more, and longer, because of those moral failings.

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – November 16 Edition

...

I’ve been silent for long enough. As a Penn State alumna, surrounded by Penn State friends all over New York City and digitally connected to many others, I’ve struggled to know what to say publicly about everything surrounding the Jerry Sandusky affair. From the bottom of my being, I have felt so sickened by everything I’ve read and come to understand about the case – from the alleged sexual abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky to the moral failings of many of Penn State’s faculty, most notably Joe Paterno. I, along with all of my Nittany Lion closest, have been wildly ashamed, angry, confused, distraught, heartbroken.. there aren’t enough potent words. After the extremist media flurry (sound reporting was very nearly nonexistent), in which the victims and the alleged perpetrator were pushed out of the spotlight (when I started reading Facebook posts about Joe Paterno, not Jerry Sandusky, molesting young boys, I nearly lost it), I finally feel like I have regained some footing. I have a mite of perspective. This horrible time is not over, but there are some bits of light in all the darkness. If I could name one, it would be the outpouring of support by the Penn State community for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. This is the kind of thing that Penn State needs to focus on. For the thousands upon thousands of us who were not involved in any way with what happened, we can do something to help educate and, more importantly, help prevent sexual assault.

THE GOOD
– In a unanimous vote, Detroit Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander was declared the AL Cy Young Award winner on Tuesday and is in consideration for the AL MVP (which will be announced next Monday). Verlander, with an MLB-leading record of 24-5 this season, struck out 250 batters and carried an ERA of just 2.40. Verlander also tossed his second career no-hitter and was an integral part of the Tigers winning the AL Central.
THE BAD
-On Tuesday, the Associated Press was granted access to an email sent last week to an unidentified source by Penn State Wide Receivers Coach Mike McQueary (who the grand jury report identifies as the then-graduate assistant who walked in on Sandusky allegedly sodomizing a young boy in a locker room shower). In contradiction with the grand jury report, McQueary writes in the email that he made sure what was happening in the shower was stopped and also that he spoke with police about what he witnessed. Speaking to the police was never part of the original statement, which was part of what fed the public fury. Per McQueary’s testimony, he spoke with his father about what happened, then spoke with Paterno, and finally spoke with AD Tim Curley and senior VP Gary Schultz – but never went to the police. This awful story continues to get murkier.
THE FUGLY
-It’s very possible there isn’t going to be an NBA season this year. On Monday, NBA players rejected the league’s latest offer, which boils down most importantly to a 50-50 split of basketball-related income. NBA players also began disbanding the union and are reportedly preparing to file an antitrust suit against the NBA. Does it seem like anything but greedy at this point? Does anyone even care if there isn’t a season? This is a HOT mess.

Pigskin Preview – A Weekend Without Nittany Lions (kind of).

SIGH. It’s always nice to get a break from a gut-twisting season like this one (SEE ALL OF THE PAST REVIEWS OF PENN STATE GAMES I’VE POSTED), but it does feel a little weird not to have a game to plan my day around. Penn State is unfortunately in the news for a terrible off-field reason, though, which would have been my Fugly had the headlines come up a few days earlier. Jerry Sandusky, a former PSU assistant coach, has been formally indicted on felony sex abuse charges AGAINST MINORS. I think I might vomit. I think when problem times for Penn State come into the news, it’s triple-disheartening for those of us who hold Penn State to a higher standard. I hope the university handles this in the appropriate ways, out of respect to any victims and their families, and out of a passion for making things right.

NOTABLE GAMES THIS WEEKEND
-This is the big one (and you have to wait till 8 PM tonight) – #1 LSU visits #2 Alabama. Both teams are undefeated, both 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. This is huge. I don’t know how else to describe this game. Can’t wait.
-Another 8 PM kick-off – #14 Kansas State visits #3 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is putting up insane numbers this year, and Kansas State is coming off a rough loss to Oklahoma last week that pushed their ranking down. Can they bounce back? Or does another team from Oklahoma spoil their day?
-#9 South Carolina at #7 Arkansas, kick-off at 7:15 PM. This is a tough SEC match-up, and one that the Gamecocks have struggled with in recent years, having lost four of the last five match-ups. Arkansas only squeaked by Vanderbilt last week, so this is a prove-yourself game for both teams.