Seven days ago, if somebody would have said to me, “Joe Paterno will be fired within the week because of a sex scandal,” I would have told them to hop back on their unicorn and beam themselves up. Well, unicorns don’t exist and “Joe Pa” is toast.
Foremost, my heart goes out to the victims and their families. What happened is a complete tragedy and I will try to explain not only why there is a division of opinion within Penn State, but what those opinions truly are (something the media has not grasped). The only way to get a true sense of this is by taking a look at social media. That is where the voices are and that is where you can see a divide between two camps within Penn State. The mainstream media has not reached into social media enough (if at all) to capture the emotion and reasons behind those who want Joe Paterno to coach one more game and those who believe the university made the right decision to fire him. Heck, the biggest story from a social media standpoint is that Ashton Kutcher turned his Twitter account over to a PR agency because he defended Paterno on Twitter.
As many witnessed on ESPN Wednesday evening after Paterno’s firing, there was a riot at Penn State where a news van was flipped over and a few individuals got to express their opinion on national TV, which, for better or worse, gave the public a look inside at what students are feeling. While I’m not a rioter (I’ve had multiple shoulder operations and can’t throw anything more than 10 feet), I do understand their rage, confusion, sorrow, embarrassment, shame and every other emotion that comes with this tragedy. I don’t support violence and destruction of property, but this news van didn’t stand a chance. Let me explain why.
When ESPN interviewed the first student during the riot (this scandal has also left us wondering what a “riot” really is) he was well-informed, knew the details of the case and explained in a concise 15 – second clip why he was angry. He left ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott noticeably stunned because of his complex answer. He said he was angry not because Joe Pa was ousted, but because the university fired a man over the phone who had done nothing illegal (given the evidence) and given so much to the school, community and charities over the years. He listed other supporting reasons, but that was the take-home point. At that moment, you could see in Stuart Scott’s body language the media beginning to “get” how personal this is to everyone who ever had anything to do with Penn State.
Why? Well, when the head football coach has spent the last 50+ years building the standard of “Success with Honor” that encompasses Penn State and he is fired within days of a sex scandal that blindsided the nation, the identity of being a “Penn State Alumni” that people across Pennsylvania, America and the world spent their tuition dollars and years of their lives earning is vaporized. Poof. Evidence of this reputation lies in this Wall Street Journal article touting Penn State graduates as the most desirable candidates for positions by recruiters because they are “Bright, well-rounded students…with the core competencies we desire.” I’m not patting myself on the back (I can’t even reach that far because of the previously cited shoulder operations), I’m simply demonstrating what this university built for itself.
Contrary to the belief of Jon Stewart, this isn’t about football. This is about defining what the words “The Pennsylvania State University” mean. They used to mean honor, dignity and success. We’ve now lost that and everyone holding a Penn State degree must work to redefine those words.
This is where Penn State faces a major turning point and the barriers are clear with a glance at social media. The Penn State Board of Trustees made a monumental first step by relieving Paterno and Spanier of their duties because of their inability to lead. However, Penn State is facing major backlash from the public for the scandal as well as a divided community of its own over the handling of Joe Paterno. This is the core the media is ignoring. Sure, they’ve shown both Joe Pa supporters and people who think the board made the right decision to fire him. But what they haven’t shown is the divide in the Penn State community that’s being displayed on social media which explains, firsthand, why people feel the way they do. Anyone who has a lot of Penn State friends on Facebook knows what I’m talking about.