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Evanson: The cult in Happy Valley

BY KEITH EVANSON | JANUARY 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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America is called the “land of second chances” — I am not certain if that is really the case or not, but generally a certain level of compassion is granted to those who seek it a lot of the time.

But there are certain sins that are unforgiveable.  The events that occurred in the Penn State football facilities involving the molestation of at least 10 underage boys by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky reached such a tragic and horrifying level that it is hard to comprehend. 

Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years. No one will ever forgive him for his acts; that’s irrefutable. At his current age of 70, he will likely die behind bars.

As for the football program that allowed Sandusky access to these facilities to fulfil his despicable desires? It’s all alive and well.

Happy Valley is truly enriched in happiness after the NCAA announced that the former head coach of the Nittany Lions, Joe Paterno, would have 111 of his wins restored, making him the football coach with the most wins once again.

A 2012 report by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh concluded that Paterno had known about the child abuse, covered it up to preserve the reputation of both his assistant Sandusky and the Penn State football program.

The number that mobs of students and fans screamed in Happy Valley this past week was “409.” The pride in knowing their school’s former football coach had reached a trivial milestone in a win total of 409 wins was, to them, more important than the lives of 10 boys who were molested by Sandusky.

How far has humankind really progressed when the lives of living, breathing people are trumped by an insignificant sports statistic that in actuality is just a name and a number in a record book?

Even current athletes for Penn State are relishing the reinstatement of the wins. Penn State’s men’s hockey team wore a “409” sticker on the back of their helmets. Even local State College pizza place Pizza Mia was in on the grotesque celebration, tweeting that in honor of the reinstated wins, it would have a special on a large cheese pizza for a special price, and yes, you guessed it: $4.09.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic about the situation. It’s difficult for me to understand the inner workings of the minds of the Penn State faithful who value their legendary but cowardly coach’s accomplishments over human life.

I would describe this phenomenon as a cult. In this Happy Valley cult, they worship Paterno. Their place of worship is Beaver Stadium, but sometimes it occurs in Pennsylvania sports bars. The people involved in this cult are not aware of how manipulated they really are to believing in their impeccable savior. This group in State College has a polarized, “us-versus-them” mentality in which the outsiders are just simply out to get them.

Everything I read involving Penn State’s handling of the situation makes me feel angry and subsequently hopeless. I started thinking about how I wish the school could be kicked out of the Big Ten, and even the NCAA, but then I realize that does nothing to change the outcome of what Sandusky did. Punishing the athletics programs at the university can’t undo the horror, and the lasting effects still affecting those victims today.

When supporters speak of the NCAA’s reinstatement of Paterno’s wins, they talk about his “legacy,” the legacy he brought to the football program and the university. After these events, after not simply trying to right a wrong, but instead wronging the wrong, the legacy has led itself into an immoral purgatory.

The cult from Happy Valley will convene yet again for its weekly ritual this upcoming football season, hoping for a victory against Temple on Sept. 5.


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