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A Letter to Mark Emmert

by on December 05, 2016 5:00 AM

Dear Dr. Mark Emmert,

I hope you were watching on Saturday evening. The game went late but most of Nittany Nation – the hundreds of thousands of Penn State alumni and fans – stayed awake to watch it. The No. 7 Nittany Lion football team (now No. 5) took on the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. After a tough first half, the Nittany Lions came out on top and are heading to the Rose Bowl. I’m sure you and your colleague and “partner in crime,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, had some uncomfortable moments as Penn State was presented with the championship trophy.

I hope you were watching, Dr. Emmert, because that game and those coaches and those incredible young men are what Penn State is all about. It’s taken us awhile to remember that. It’s taken a few years of being kicked down and tainted with an undeserved reputation. It’s taken awhile for us to remember who we are.

We are… Penn State.

In 2011, we learned that some horrible, unspeakable things had happened on our campus. We learned that the most innocent among us had been harmed, and likely changed forever, by someone who many believed and trusted. Our hearts and our prayers and our donations went out to those survivors and our community has led the way in setting up policies and practices to try to make sure that no children are ever harmed again on our campuses. We have become the model for other campuses as well.

All the while, through the investigation and the legal proceedings and as the punishments were being handed down, the students and faculty and staff kept going along and doing what we do best. Teaching.  Research. Service. In the face of accusations and the denigration of an education community that continues to make a difference in the lives of so many, our community kept moving forward.  Recruitment and retention of top students and faculty. Cutting edge research. Graduation rates that are the envy of other universities. Top rankings in many of our academic programs. Businesses and industries that look to Penn State first when it comes to recruiting and hiring. Recognition for our efforts to serve and support our military community. Unparalleled philanthropic support of children with cancer and others among us who need help.

And yes, Dr. Emmert, to you and the other haters, we continued to support our football team. And our wrestling and ice hockey and field hockey and soccer teams, to name just a few. We continued to wear blue and white and link our arms as we sing our alma mater.  We didn’t do that, Dr. Emmert, because we didn’t care about the kids who were hurt by convicted pedophile and prison inmate Jerry Sandusky. 

We did it because of the kids who had nothing to do with those kids being harmed.

In your rush to judgment, we experienced sanctions that had never been seen in college sports prior to that time, even though the crimes that were committed on our campus had nothing to do with the Penn State team. At the same time, we witnessed cheating scandals, fake classes for athletes, alumni donor violations and other egregious acts directly related to the sports programs at other universities who ended up with little more than a slap on the wrist. Penn State had not a single NCAA violation and our winning teams got there by playing fair and putting the “student” before “athlete.” We believed then, as we believe now, that this Grand Experiment is possible. Student and athlete are not mutually exclusive terms.

At no point in the investigation or trial of Jerry Sandusky was one student-athlete ever implicated in either aiding and abetting Sandusky or in covering up said crimes. Despite that, Dr. Emmert, you chose to sanction a football program and, ultimately, student-athletes, to say nothing of the dedicated student fan base who had nothing to do with the horrific mistreatment of children. And, when you quietly walked back the sanctions and restored the wins to Coach Joe Paterno, you never apologized to those students or alumni for what seemed to be a vengeance against our beloved university.

And that, Dr. Emmert, is why Saturday night in Indianapolis was so sweet. For the athletes who stayed and for those who moved on. For the students who looked beyond the headlines and applied and were accepted to our great university. For our alumni – our wonderful, dedicated alumni. For Coach Bill O’Brien and Coach James Franklin and their staffs. For the lives that have been positively impacted by the research and teaching of our faculty. For the hundreds of thousands of diehard Penn Staters, the 2016 football season only represents what we already know. Penn State is an amazing place. We never believed that we were who you tried to tell us we are.

Dr. Emmert, we are Penn State.

I look forward to seeing you in Pasadena.


A Penn State Alumna and Nittany Lion Fan.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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