By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Beaver Stadium will roar this year, and soon. 106,000 Penn State football fans will chant “We are!!” as their white-helmeted heroes charge from the tunnel, united against all their perceived enemies.
Pure football passion still will echo across the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania, and a powerful statement will be made loudly and clearly to the boys raped by Jerry Sandusky: this is what matters most.
NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke the truth about the need for Penn State to rethink what football means to the campus and to the community, describing an athletic culture that “went horribly awry.” He struck a grim tone, and indeed invoked the word “culture” repeatedly in an attempt to underscore the gravity of the case. He said many right things.
Unfortunately, no attempt to change this particular culture can really succeed without a suspension of the games themselves. In fact, there are already indications that this entire scandal will be used as a rallying point for the team.
Quarterback Matt McGloin tweeted yesterday “The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel,” as if child-rape will somehow make his team better. This is in line with comments from verbally committed recruits like quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who told the Harrisburg Patriot-News “To be honest, we’re sort of using it as motivation.” “It,” apparently being the hideous crimes and the malevolent cover-up.
These thoughts don’t usually originate from the minds of the kids themselves — they parrot what coaches say. And while public comments will be contrite and aware, you can see how the “us against the world” theme is already simmering in the locker room and among an angry, wounded fan base.
Greg Mace, the Sports Director of WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, said today that he thinks “fans will be even more passionate and motivated this year.” He’s probably correct, and there’s something more than a little scary about that.
Expect the $60 million fine by the NCAA to be replenished in overwhelming fashion by donations to the school in response to the sanctions. In this, the darkest year in its history, Penn State raised $208 million, its second-highest total ever for a single fiscal year. There is no reason to believe that this pattern of compensatory giving will change. The hotter the fire, the greater the rewards, I guess.
As long as there is football, there will be opportunity for the Penn State community to wrap itself in victimhood, grumbling about “haters” outside of their cocoon. Emmert wants them to turn inward, to examine what has become a rotten soul and change it for the better, moving toward a higher ideal that places a game in a proper human perspective. The Freeh Report urged them to do the same, in no uncertain terms.
Those noble goals face headwinds as the band strikes up on Saturdays. Bowl bans, fines, probation and scholarship limits may affect the quality of football in Happy Valley, but not its essential place and meaning, which was the whole problem.
Blind devotion caused awful blindness elsewhere, too.
It will be jarring for many of us to see a packed stadium of painted faces insulting us all by still not getting the point. The culture needed a forced reboot. A time-out during which actions could be considered, regardless of significant collateral damage.
Instead, an addiction continues to be fed. The drug for some that is college football will still be mainlined.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” two weeks ago, Bob Costas said “If they play football at Penn State come September, something’s wrong.”
They will play, and something is wrong. And despite tough talk from Emmert, Big Ten officials, school leaders and others, the uninterrupted existence of Penn State football ensures that something will continue to be.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.