STATE COLLEGE —
The equipment is put away for the winter.
The stadium will be empty for months.
The Nittany Lions aren’t going anywhere.
And Joe Paterno’s statue is still nowhere in sight.
But if you want to see for yourself what the NCAA’s version of purgatory looks like, then by all means, come visit Happy Valley in the middle of another bowl season from which Penn State’s football team has been banned.
If nothing else, the locals will appreciate the business.
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Some two years after Jerry Sandusky’s name and stomach-turning deeds exploded in the headlines like a thunderclap, the reverberations ripple across this campus and community still – and will for years to come.
Several victims of Sandusky’s serial sexual abuse continue to live nearby and the trials of three former Penn State administrators, as well as a handful of lawsuits over who shares the blame and how much, are wending their way through the courts. Meanwhile, Sandusky, who turns 70 next month, sits in a maximum-security prison three hours’ drive west of here, serving a 30-to-60-year sentence.
Most townspeople, many alumni, faculty and students, and especially Paterno’s family still chafe over the injustice of a university’s reputation dragged through the mud, and a coach’s legacy of wins and good deeds crumpled up and discarded like just so much litter.
Over the course of his 61 years at Penn State, Paterno became not just the face, but the cantankerous soul and benefactor of a school that was transformed from a “cow college” into a top-shelf public university. But to find any trace of him today, you either have to visit the library he and wife Sue raised funds to help build – where the family name remains etched in stone – or drive a few miles out of town, where a giant billboard juts out from the rolling landscape stubbornly proclaiming “Joe Paterno, 409 wins” in Penn State’s famously spare blue and white color scheme.
Others, of course, think that punishment and all the others piled upon the school and a football program that outsiders judged to be running amok weren’t nearly harsh enough.
“This summer I spoke to a group near Wilkes-Barre and afterward, the debate heated up over our family’s lawsuit,” said Jay Paterno, sitting in a booth at The Corner Room, a restaurant that looks much as it did when his late father began eating breakfast there as an assistant coach in the 1950s.
“I said a few things I believed at the outset and still do: This was about a very calculating child predator, not as the narrative that was created put it, the product of some ‘out-of-control football culture.’ He could have done what he did anywhere, and come from any walk of life; unfortunately, it’s probably going on somewhere while we’re sitting here. ...
“We’re not pursuing (the lawsuit) to get scholarships restored earlier, or get back to a bowl game faster, or just to clear my dad’s name and Penn State’s. ... But before long, some people on the other side started arguing loudly, ‘Support the truth, not just Penn State football!’
“Believe me,” Paterno added with some resignation, “I know how those arguments end. ... So all I said, finally, was the ‘truth’ and what Penn State football stood for – and still stands for – are not mutually exclusive.”