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Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to the Media

by on August 31, 2012 12:15 PM

Your claim to understand the "Penn State Culture" is a bit like taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower and calling yourself a Frenchman. The truth is, few of you have ever visited Happy Valley, and those who have were only there for football. You have never braved a State college winter, smuggled a chicken cosmo out of a dining hall, pulled an all-nighter at the Diner, listened to reggae on the HUB lawn or felt a deep loss when it was announced that elms couldn't be saved. You may know how the phrase "We Are" came to be, but you will never understand what it means.

We are the millions who loved our coach, not because we were blinded by football fever, but because we looked beyond the football field. We saw the millions of dollars the Paterno family gave to academic projects. We saw the "Grand Experiment" become institution-wide, with academic honors and graduation rates for all Nittany Lion athletes exceeding those of the general student population at nearly every major university. We saw Ki-Jana Carter lose a Heisman and our team lose rankings because Joe Paterno refused to run up the score against our opponents and because he called you out on your inane questions and the many times you misquoted him or took his words out of context.

We are appalled by your characterization of our football program and its staff as "win-at-all-costs." We supported them during the lean years at the beginning of the last decade when you were calling for JoePa's head. We saw a program that continued to garner blue-chip recruits without promising them early starts and while making it clear to them that they would be held to a higher standard of academic performance and personal conduct than their counterparts at other top programs. We saw that staff pass on some extremely talented players who were unwilling to do it 'The Penn State Way.' We saw our star receiver dismissed before a bowl game for skipping class. We knew the bye weeks were important to our coach because he wanted to give his players time off to study for midterms, even with the Michigan game coming up.

We are the ones who endured years of barbs about our coach's age. We heard you call him senile, say the game had passed him by, he has lost control, he is out of touch. And now We hear you call him the mastermind of a criminal coverup that fooled everyone for years on end. We know that Jerry Sandusky's hasn't had an office right down the hall from Joe for 13 years. We know that "liability" is more likely to refer to bodily injury than risk of molestation. We have read the Freeh Report in its entirety and have used the skills we honed at Penn State to critically examine the "evidence."

We are, we always will be, and we will never allow you to define us.

Moving Forward ... the Paterno Way

On Aug. 12, 2012, the Penn State Board of Trustees allowed nearly 9,000 of us to bear witness to their apathy; to their lack of allegiance to all that Penn State is, was, and should always be; and to their profound inability to lead that has brought about the mess in which we now find ourselves and Dear Old State. In essence, these people who are tasked with protecting the integrity of our beloved university did nothing more than embrace the false assumption of the Freeh Report that we have a "culture problem" and we need to "move forward." Though surely we should not be surprised by what we heard, most of us are more angry than ever for having heard it. Now it is time for us to ask ourselves the one question any football-fevered, idol worshipping group of lemmings must ask to survive in times of turmoil: What would JoePa do?

We all know what JoePa would do, he would run it up the middle. Repeatedly. He would run it and run it and keeping running it until our greater strength and resolve wore down the opponent. He would put our linebackers out there to read their gameplan and stop them from executing it. And then he would run it up the middle, again.

In 1967, Joe saw his team perform lackidaisically, led by a group of upperclassmen who believed their longevity alone entitled them to play. What did JoePa do? He benched those upperclassmen in favor of a hungrier, more motivated group of young players who went the next two-and-a-half seasons undefeated. This BOT is our class of '67. While we may not be able to bench them immediately the way JoePa did, we can continue to fight for reform in the way the board is selected, the rules by which it operates, and the manner in which it is held accountable for its decisions. Why do board members themselves get to choose more of their own numbers than we do? Why is the executive committee given so much power? Why is there no recourse for incompetence, ineptitude and putting one's own self-interest ahead of that of the university? Why are individual votes not counted and reported? These are questions and problems that we can address through every means at our disposal. We can never again forget to vote in trustee elections or neglect to study our candidates carefully. We can monitor their statements, their actions, and their votes, and we can let them know that we are watching and that we hold them personally accountable to each of us. We can make them earn their positions and our trust.

In 2003, JoePa saw his team lose to three conference opponents in a row due to incredibly poor calls that went against them and directly affected the outcome of the game. What did JoePa do? He worked behind the scenes to ensure that the Big Ten led the nation in the implementation of instant replay. The Freeh Report, the media miscarriage and the NCAA sanctions are our "bounce pass" and the "first downs that weren't." Here, we have a power that Joe did not, the power to go back and change the result. We must continue to fight the credibility of the Freeh Report, both by refuting the so-called evidence and by presenting our own fact-based evidence against his false characterization of a "win-at-all-costs football culture." We must demand that our BOT recognize these errors, reject this document on those grounds, and rectify the public perception based on these inaccuracies. If the NCAA felt it could act outside its mandate because it was addressing a 'culture problem', we must prove its actions are unjust because the problem was never within our culture. We must force members of the NCAA executive committee to produce facts, not Freeh assumptions, to justify its actions or to repeal it. Remember, we've never lost to Indiana, and if it takes another goal line stand to keep that record intact, let's put on the pads and fight for every inch.

In 2011, JoePa saw 32 "representatives" of Penn State turn their back on him and all that he had worked to build. What did JoePa do? He renewed his annual endowment to the university he loved so that current and future students could continue to reap the benefits of his legacy. He understood that the 600,000 and growing beneficiaries of the "grand experiment" could, should and would speak louder in pride than the 32 could ever speak in fear. We must be those voices. Not because Joe Paterno was God, but because we are, we always were, and we will always be Penn State.

Jessi Lillo

Penn State Class of 1991

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship



This piece was submitted by a StateCollege.com guest columnist.
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