Last year I created a little ditty based on the Twelve Days of Christmas about going to the Outback Bowl. This holiday season, I’m in a less frivolous and much more serious mood.
In fact, I would just as soon pray for Penn State University and its football team. I guess I’ve been inspired a bit by the last home game against Nebraska on November 12th, when both the Penn State and Nebraska teams prayed on the field before the game.
I look to prayers in this context primarily as a healing mechanism. It doesn’t matter the religion you profess. If you prefer to substitute the word “hope” for “prayer” then that works as well.
Either way, there is a lot of healing needed right now when it comes to Penn State University and the situation we are confronted with given the allegations by up to twelve reported accusers who claim that they are victims of child sexual abuse by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Except for perhaps Prayer #1, there is no order to these prayers. They are all important, and I don’t want any reader to think that somehow one has priority over the other. And so I will mix it up a bit. Please don’t read anything into how I have ordered the thoughts.
Be forewarned, this is a very long blog post. But there is a lot to pray for. If you haven't liked my ramblings in the past, I suggest you stop reading now. Prayer #1: For Joe Paterno. I pray for his health and for his well-being. Joe gave 61 great years of his energy and dedication to Penn State. It has been a privilege to witness, time and time again, his coaching on the sidelines of so many great games. And it has been a privilege to listen to him talk in numerous forums over the years where he has given us the benefit of his wisdom and philosophy. We are heartbroken by how his tenure at Penn State has ended. Our fervent hope is that he and his wife Sue will eventually be remembered for all the good they accomplished at Penn State and especially for the thousands of young men Joe has mentored into productive roles in life during his long tenure.
Prayer #2: For Dave Joyner, the Acting Athletic Director at Penn State. He has an awesome task on his hand to replace a true legend in coaching at a most trying time for Penn State. I don’t know him very well, although I have met him a few times. What I do know is that he does not need this job. This for him is a labor of love, and perhaps of duty and obligation for all that Penn State has done for him as a former football player and means to him now. No matter what Dave and the search committee decide, their actions will be subject to severe scrutiny. I pray that they do the best job they can to find someone to fill shoes that are larger than life.
Prayer #3: For children everywhere. I pray that all of us recognize how vulnerable children are, how easy it is for even caring and responsible adults to miss important things that occur in children’s lives. I pray that as adults we will ALL be more vigilant, and recognize that children often can’t find a voice to speak about what is happening to them. Early on in my career, I worked for a children’s advocacy organization. I learned then, and am reminded now, that we need to constantly be vigilant when it comes to protecting our children from the multiple harms that can befall them.
Prayer #4: For the Penn State football team, and especially the seniors who are playing their last game in a Penn State uniform. They will be going to Texas to compete in a bowl game against Houston, one of the best offensive teams in the country. It will be a challenging game, and we hope that the players will continue to stay strong and set an example for all of us in coping with adversity. We have watched every down that this team has played for Penn State football. We are very proud of what they have accomplished, and could not have been prouder of them than we were during their last three games this season. We will be there to support them on January 2nd, and hope that if you can, you will be there too. It will be fun, and I hope the team finds a place to learn the Texas Two Step (Hint: I hear Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth is the place to go). In fact, these “lesser” bowl games are often a lot more fun than the “bigger” bowl games, because it feels more like a family affair. We plan to help them bring home a much-needed victory for this team and for this coaching staff, all of whom face an uncertain future and deserve our respect and admiration.
Prayer #5: For those responsible for protecting the children in our world. Teachers. Social workers. Human services administrators. Doctors. Nurses. Ministers. Clerics. Elders. Priests. Rabbis. Youth counselors. Day-care workers. Foster parents. Camp counselors. Police. Neighbors. Finally, and most especially, I pray for parents. May anybody who serves in those roles all learn something in terms of recognizing incidents that should be investigated. And may workers directly responsible for children’s welfare also not be fearful of losing their jobs or their reputations as a result of reporting any such incidents, especially if those reports involve people who are powerful or respected in any community.
Prayer #6: For Tim Curley and Gary Schultz as they fight to prove their innocence in this situation and protect their own legacies as responsible administrators at Penn State. Also for Dr. Graham Spanier and his family. We will have to wait until the trials are held to understand fully what happened from their points of view. In the meantime, I pray that they are surrounded by love and support from the people who know them well.
Prayer #7: For potential Penn State recruits. That these 17 and 18 year-old young men understand that with adversity comes also the opportunity to make a difference. We saw that before in the early 2000’s when there were several losing seasons. Recruits came because they felt they were needed, and they made a difference right away. 2005 occurred as a result, when we were one second away from an undefeated season, and Penn State’s fortunes turned around dramatically. I pray that these young men contemplating which school to attend also understand that there is much more to the college experience than the football team; that there also needs to be a focus on the academic experience. Lost in the recent bad media about Penn State is the fact that 85% of Penn State football players graduate from Penn State with a college degree, and that there is no discrepancy based on race. That statistic is a huge success for Penn State, #1 in the academic BCS, and speaks to a system that monitors what players are doing in the classroom as well as on the field.
Prayer #8: For Mike McQueary. Much of the case implicating Penn State for not doing enough to stop the Jerry Sandusky alleged crimes has to do with what Mike McQueary witnessed one evening in the Lasch Football building in 2002. I pray for him because he is a critical witness in the trials coming up and I hope he and his family will continue to be safe. Regardless of what we think Mike should have done when faced with the situation, the fact is that he reported what he saw to higher authorities at Penn State. McQueary could have just as easily turned his back that night and done nothing. I will always admire him for being willing to be a reporter of bad news, and I pray that the media and the public stop trying to shoot the messenger.
Prayer #9: For our new head football coach, when he is named. He will have a daunting task in filling the shoes of a legend AND also repairing the many wounds that have emerged as a result of the Sandusky allegations. I agree with Dave Joyner that finding someone to fill those tasks is not an ordinary challenge.
But there are some great positives about being head coach at Penn State. First and foremost is a strong fan and alumni base that proved when they showed up in force on November 12th 2011 that they support this football team through thick and thin.
Second is a very talented group of football players who are likely to be responsive to new leadership given the current challenges they face.
Third is the fact that there is a system in place that will help ensure that players will achieve success off the field as well as on the field.
Finally, and most importantly, is the best student section in the country. They will ensure that the noise level for big games is worthy of the fourth largest stadium in the world.
Prayer #10: For anyone who has ever suffered from child abuse or child sexual abuse or molestation. Regardless of the innocence or guilt of Jerry Sandusky, the media attention that the current situation has given has created nightmares and relived moments for anyone who has ever suffered from child abuse or child sexual abuse.
According to statistics cited by the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 3% of boys in grades 5-8 and 7% of girls in grades 5-8 have stated they have been sexually abused. According to Robin Guillard of the Center County Women’s Resource Center, 52 rape crisis centers in Pennsylvania, including CCWRC, provide counseling and intervention services to 8000 children each year.
I know too well how insidiously awful being victimized as a child can be, and how difficult it can be to overcome. Over time and with help the good news is that healing can occur. But those incidents are never forgotten, and the media attention right now is bringing back memories that for many people they thought they had overcome a long time ago.
Prayer #11: For Penn State students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans everywhere. Including our new president Dr. Rodney Erickson.
Those of us who are close to Penn State don’t need to be reminded that Penn State University is about much more than its football program. While it does seem right now that Dr. Erickson needs to remind the media of that, if we teach there, work there, attend there, or graduated from there, we know that Penn State’s mission is primarily teaching, research, and service.
Penn State is a very well rounded academic institution with huge documented impact on the quality of life in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Numerous examples of Penn State’s accomplishments in these three areas are announced on a daily basis in the Penn State News.
Also, for many students and alumni, Penn State is known just as much for running the world’s largest student run charity, Thon, where each year millions of dollars are raised to help families with children who have cancer.
But even for “ordinary” football fans, with no other ties to Penn State other than being fans of the game itself, Penn State football is considered distinctive and worthy of support precisely BECAUSE Penn State under Joe Paterno has graduated its football players more than any other BCS school.
Finally, from my perspective as a professor at the business school, what I can say without a doubt right now is that employers are still contacting me, desiring to get into my classroom this spring, to talk to Penn State marketing students about career opportunities at their firms. I don’t have enough classroom time for all the employers who want to recruit my students!
And so I pray that we all hold our heads up high and remind ourselves of all the goodness that is created on a daily basis at Penn State through teaching, research, and service.
Wear your Penn State clothing wherever you go. It’s especially important to do that right now.
Prayer #12: For members of the State College community, especially those who have been involved in supporting The Second Mile charity and who know and support the Sandusky family. We pray for them as they sort out their own feelings about the situation. This is a very painful time with a lot of second-guessing and self-doubt creeping in. A lot of good people are questioning and wondering and just hoping that the truth is finally known about this person they truly love and respect and the charity he founded that they have supported so fervently.
As I write this, I can think of so many more prayers to say. But perhaps I should just ask you to offer your own prayers for something I missed. Feel free to do so in the comments section below.
I will just end with a prayer for all of my readers for a safe, happy and healthy New Year. Thank you for reading my ramblings about this most difficult and unprecedented football season.
I always appreciate your comments and your perspectives, especially during this time when we are confronted by such huge challenges as Penn State fans.
Keep praying that the truth will eventually be known and that the truth will make us stronger as a community over time.
Go Lions! Beat the Cougars! Let’s ring in the New Year with a win!