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Letter from the Editor

by on July 24, 2012 10:28 AM

The day we went to press with this issue, the NCAA and Big Ten handed out their punishments to Penn State for its alleged actions and inactions surrounding Jerry Sandusky. The university isn’t appealing (even though a number of legal experts have expressed concern about the legalities of what the NCAA did), so Penn State and this community must now figure how to live with the effects of it all.

This region has received so many punches to the gut over the past nine months that I’ve lost count. We’ve heard the phrase “healing process can now begin” how many times? — only to have something else happen that wounds us more.

What’s most unfortunate about these times, it seems, is that symbolic, knee-jerk reactions to appease a mob mentality are ruling the day when substantive, thoughtful actions should be what’s happening.

I try to use this space to express optimism about life here in Happy Valley. As many would probably agree, it’s become increasingly difficult to have those upbeat feelings.

Yet, I still do have that sense of pride and positive emotion — and it’s becoming clearer why I do. It’s the same reason why I love this country and love this state. It’s, of course, the people — and not the ones in Washington, DC, Harrisburg, and Old Main who make decisions that affect everyone else. It’s you who have businesses and work jobs and raise families and volunteer — and just continue with your actions to make this community and university better.

You may not have a leadership title next to your name, but you are the real leaders of this region. And it’s the collective We who can see this community through what looks to be a difficult few years coming up.

If this sounds like a rallying cry, well, it is. I believe Penn State and this region, as a whole, have always had their priorities in order. It’s some individuals at Penn State and in this region who didn’t or are being accused of not.

When you think of Penn State and this region, yes, you think of football Saturdays, but you also think of THON, researchers who are discovering cures for cancer (note to the national media, that is actually happening at Penn State), all the great nonprofit organizations in the community that help everything from dogs to health care for individuals in need, and just an overall quality of life that few places have.

I believe Penn State and this community will be leaders in stopping abuse of any kind wherever it is happening. As crazy as it might sound now, Penn State, with its vast alumni network, can become a beacon that shines a light on abuse, makes others more aware of it, and brings forth efforts to end it.

And, yes, athletics has a role here too. It’s hard to guess where the football program will be after the four-year bowl ban and reduction of scholarships. But, if early reaction is any indication, this team and this staff have nearly all of the Nittany Nation behind it. They’ve unfortunately become collateral damage in people handing out punishments because of the actions of a few.

Yes, sports are a big part of this community. The fact is sports are a big part in just about every corner of the world (hello, ESPN). Which means that while there are negatives to that, sports can have a positive influence. Kids from troubled neighborhoods or countries use sports to break free. Think about the role sports played in the aftermath of 9/11 and what it meant to the city of New York to have the Mets and Yankees playing.

Locally, last year’s football game against Nebraska brought together this community and Penn Staters from all over, and they raised $47,000 for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Sports can and should be part of the healing that will be taking place.

On the fields, courts, and mats, the coaches and student-athletes here (especially the ones who will be playing football for the next few seasons) are wonderful symbols of Penn State. Off the fields, courts, and mats, they, too, are leaders in showing the true substance of the university.

David Pencek is editor of Town&Gown magazine, Town&Gown's Penn State Football Annual, and Town&Gown's Penn State Winter Sports Annual.
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