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The Times
  • Theresa DeFranzo: Penn State grad tries to cope with scandal

  • I am a graduate of Penn State, and I am heartbroken. I am also ashamed, angry, embarrassed and confused. Ever since I was in the eighth grade, I have been following Penn State football.

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  • I am a graduate of Penn State, and I am heartbroken. I am also ashamed, angry, embarrassed and confused.
    Ever since I was in the eighth grade, I have been following Penn State football. I used to watch the games on TV, and the pictures of the campus during halftime — of Old Main, the Nittany Lion Shrine and Beaver Stadium — convinced me that Penn State was the school for me.
    And, yes, I was a football fanatic. I loved Joe Paterno — the coach and the man. I loved everything he stood for; everything from giving back to your community to playing by the rules. If you didn’t follow the rules, you’re didn’t play for JoePa.
    When I got accepted to Penn State, I had two goals: I wanted to graduate with at least at 3.0 GPA and I wanted to write for the Daily Collegian — the award-winning newspaper put out by Penn State students. I wanted to cover Penn State football.
    My senior year, I got the chance to do that. I also got the chance to meet Joe Paterno. I never got to interview him one-on-one, but I got to go into the media room with the other journalists and question Joe about that week’s game.
    My first few times in the media room, I never asked Joe a question. I couldn’t believe I was sitting just feet away from the man who won two National Championships (one while I was there in 1986). I remember being so nervous because I respected him so much. Again, not just as a coach, but as a man.
    Yes, I know this doesn’t make me sound like a very good journalist, but I am being honest.
    During freshmen orientation week, students met in Eisenhower Auditorium with Joe as the guest speaker. He didn’t just talk about football. He talked about what Penn State stood for, and he welcomed us to the Penn State family. And that’s what it felt like. The level of school spirit at Penn State, in my opinion, is what makes it such a special place. You really feel like you are all in it together, and Joe was our leader.
    Horror and shock
    So you can only imagine the horror I felt last week when the world found out that all Joe Paterno did when a graduate assistant told him he saw a coach in the shower with a 10-year-old boy — I am toning this down considerably in case any kids read this — was to alert his immediate supervisor.
    If you’ve been to Penn State or know anything about Penn State, you know that Joe is the immediate supervisor. I have asked myself countless times this week: Why didn’t Joe call the police?
    Page 2 of 3 - How can a man who has given his life to mentoring young men not do more to help an innocent 10-year-old boy? I think I know the answer, and that is why I am ashamed. No one wanted to taint the image of Penn State, and, specifically, the football program.
    It’s been a very difficult week. I’ve always talked about Penn State — and some people will tell you I talk too much about Penn State — with such pride. I got a great education. I had amazing professors. I got to write for the college paper, which, in great part, helped me to get some of my first journalism jobs right out of college. I made great friends. My college roommate is still my best friend today. I felt like I was part of the Penn State family.
    So as you watch some students mourn the firing of Joe Paterno, I ask you to understand where they are coming from. I believe some of them are in shock because what we learned last week goes against everything we believed about Joe.
    When my college roommate emailed me about this last week, I responded by writing, “I am literally sick to my stomach. I feel like there is nothing to believe in anymore. I was literally rocked to the core because of the Church sex abuse scandal, and all my priest did was talk about what a great guy Cardinal Law was. We haven’t been back to church because of that, and now this. I thought Joe would never let us down.”
    Small steps
    I did something last week that never in my life did I think I would do: I called the president’s office at Penn State and told them it was time to fire Joe Paterno. If we really want the world to see what Penn State is all about, then he had to go — just like Cardinal Law had to go, but not to the Vatican (that’s another column, for another time).
    We are more than just a football program. We are about putting the lives of young boys ahead of a football program. I ask that you keep those young boys in your thoughts and prayers, and I ask you, if you can, to focus on some of the positive steps the student body has taken in the last few days.
    Last Friday night, thousands of students came out and held a candlelight vigil for the abuse victims. And a group of alumni has formed “Proud to be a Penn Stater," a grassroots movement which has partnered with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to raise funds to help victims of abuse. In just a few days, they have raised more than $315,000 with a goal of at least $557,000 — one dollar for every Penn State alumnus.
    Page 3 of 3 - While these are just small steps, hopefully, it will show people that most Penn Staters realize a game is just that: a game. And the welfare of young children has to come above everything else — no matter who you are, or how many games you’ve won.
    Theresa DeFranzo is a 1988 Penn State graduate and a resident of Georgetown, Mass.
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