By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The understanding of the need for culture change at Penn State lasted all of two weeks, if it ever existed at all beyond worthless words from impotent administrators.
A return to obliviousness comes this soon after Louis Freeh’s damning, comprehensive report gravely indicted school officials and the football program for facilitating years of child rape. In its findings was a clarion call to assess the significance of football in everyone’s lives there.
“One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior,” it said on page 18. “It is up to the entire university community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and the administration to undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture.”
Shortly thereafter, NCAA president Mark Emmert agreed with that assessment in handing down penalties. He, too, cited “an athletic culture that went horribly awry.”
It’s necessary to note, here, that Penn State accepted Freeh’s findings and recommendations in full. They did the same when confronted with the NCAA sanctions. Both cases are entirely undisputed.
Penn State leaders vowed to enact the cultural reforms suggested by the report, admitting contritely that it was wholly correct in its grim assessment of what allowed the systematic cover-up for a child predator over years.
They also responded by removing the statue Of Joe Paterno from outside Beaver Stadium.
Now, it seems like they needn’t have bothered, a day after they allowed 3,000 fans to gather at the football office for an organized pep rally. The marching band played, defiant placards waved, Sue Paterno appeared like some kind of deposed queen of the rebel alliance, and Freeh and Emmert were nowhere to be heard.
Wait – they can be seen, though, on the new t-shirt marketed to fans that has their faces next to that of PSU president Rodney Erickson. The back of the shirt says FOREVER 409 – a rejection of Paterno’s wins since 1998 being officially vacated – and the front says “THE FREEH STOOGES.”
This was no fleeting little flash-mob, either. It was sponsored by four local businesses and organized by two former players with an internet radio show. Called “Rise and Rally,” it was created to “help a team going through some hardships,” according to a story in the Daily Collegian.
On the organizers’ Twitter page, they referred to “what these guys have had to endure and overcome,” as if they, too, had been somehow victimized.
More galling were the visuals, provided by the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Players posed in front of the Lasch building with young boys in Penn State jerseys. Think about that for a moment – smiling youngsters standing innocently with their Nittany Lion heroes at the very scene of multiple rapes and assaults at the hands of a monster who used such access to players as bait to ensnare victims.
New trustee Anthony Lubrano was there, of course. He’s the loon who gained a seat on the board by promising the posthumous re-hiring of Paterno as head coach. He’s talking with linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, who has been at the school since 2001.
Let these sear your retinas. The building that contains the showers where boys were raped, now adorned with insolent slogans. A longtime Paterno aide still in official team garb. And so it goes.
This rally was a big, middle-finger salute to the world. It reaffirms the choice of culture for many, and sends a chilling message to any other victims who may wish to come forward. It begs the NCAA to do what it said it could, and intervene beyond what it already has.
It is possible that sensible, conscientious school leaders like Erickson, Kenneth Frazier and Karen Peetz watched this as the rest of the world did, with their fingers over their eyes, appalled and embarrassed. They may have chosen to just let this unfortunate reaction burn out over time as they only begin to construct long-term reforms, knowing this would happen on campus.
The organizers defended the party by tweeting “It’s about supporting the players, nothing more.” As if that were not the whole problem in the first place, painfully explained by Freeh.
Unclear, too, is why exactly players need “support,” when they are free to leave and be eligible elsewhere immediately. They are making a choice to stay or go, fully aware of the risks of guilt by association and the uneasy task of representing a tarnished, shamed brand.
These fans are only supporting themselves, while hiding behind the players and insulting the actual victims. It is a reflex – an almost biological response from those who need college football far too much.
The Daily Collegian interviewed one family that made a five-hour drive to attend the rally. They quoted another participant who said “If you think this is impressive, wait until the fall.”
Count me among those more aghast than impressed.
The fall looms, indeed.