Penn State fans' 'Blue Out' to support victims of child abuse
Rarely, if ever, has the outcome of a big football game meant so little to so many.
Conference championship and bowl game ramifications hang on the outcome of No. 12 Penn State's noon game today against No. 19 Nebraska at Beaver Stadium. For the players, the stakes are high. But many Penn State supporters this week have been wrestling with issues deeper and more painful than a final score, and a victory would perhaps ring more hollow than any other.
"The game is totally overshadowed," said Dan Byrd, a season-ticket holder and president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association. "I watched the Big Ten Network, and they had 15 minutes on the situation and it was like, 'By the way, there's a football game.' "
The "situation" is a child-sex abuse scandal surrounding the football program that has unleashed a tsunami of horror, shock and outrage. Among seemingly endless consequences, it cost Joe Paterno a chance to guide his team during the final games of his 46 seasons as Nittany Lions head coach.
Paterno, 84, was fired late Wednesday hours after announcing his retirement. Longtime assistant Tom Bradley is interim head coach. Paterno leaves behind a long list of achievements, including winning more games -- 409 -- than any Division I coach. But his sterling legacy is now tarnished.
Penn State students always have adored Paterno. For them and many of their parents, he is the only Nittany Lions head coach they know. Paterno missed a few games through the years for personal reasons, but this is the first Penn State game without Paterno on the football staff since 1949.
Many students this week again camped outside Beaver Stadium in the tent city known as Paternoville waiting to get choice seats for the game. But after the university's Board of Trustees fired Paterno, a protest by thousands of his followers in downtown State College turned into a riot. Students, some yelling "We love Joe!" tore down light poles and street signs, broke car windows and overturned a TV truck, among other acts of vandalism. Police responded with pepper spray.
Also absent for the Nittany Lions will be receivers coach Mike McQueary, who, according to the university, has received "multiple threats" and was placed on administrative leave Friday. According to a grand jury presentment, McQueary, then a 28-year-old graduate assistant, saw former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in 2002 in an on-campus shower. McQueary told his father and Paterno but did not tell police. Sandusky has been charged with 40 counts related to child sex abuse.
President Obama last night called the scandal "heartbreaking."
"We think first and foremost of the victims of these alleged crimes," said Obama, as he watched the inaugural Carrier Classic college basketball game on the USS Carl Vinson at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego, Calif. "But I think it's a good time for us to do some soul searching -- every institution, not just Penn State -- about what our priorities are and making sure that we understand that our first priority is protecting our kids."
State police have worked with campus and local authorities to increase security for the game. If there are demonstrations, they are expected to be orderly. Fans are urged to wear blue in a "Blue Out" (as opposed to the traditional "White Out") in support of child abuse victims.
"For the foreseeable future, and certainly at least through the weekend, we are directing extra resources toward State College," state police Sgt. Anthony Manetta said. "We are pulling our troops from other areas of the state and are in full communication with several police departments about what needs might be for safety and security."
Penn State officials assured Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne that visiting fans have every reason to feel safe, even if they wear their traditional bright red. Osborne did not seem as certain. "I just don't know if it's a good idea in this circumstance to stand out," he said. But he immediately added he was "99 percent sure that this is going to be pretty much like a normal game."
The game is sold out, and fans are encouraged to arrive early because of the added safety measures that include more inspections. Only 300 tickets were available on StubHub late Friday afternoon, most priced between $100 and $300.
Rich Mauti, a Penn State receiver in the 1970s, sent an e-mail to about 800 members of the Letterman's Club urging former players to join him on the Beaver Stadium sideline today in a show of support for the current players on Senior Day. Mauti, who said the response had been "good," said he hoped the e-mail eventually reached many more former players.
Before leaving his home near New Orleans, Mauti said he felt "horrible" for the alleged victims. "I'm horrified that the kids had to go through this," he said.
Mauti added he was sad for the way Paterno was dismissed. But he emphasized he supports the players, including his son, Michael, a linebacker, who is injured and will miss the game.
"The kids are going, 'What the heck is going on?' " Mauti said. "They have responsibilities to play. I want everyone who ever put on a uniform to greet those kids and let them know they're not alone and we're here to support them."
The game "is gonna be a unique experience," Mauti said. "Good or bad."
ESPN will televise the game. At least one broadcast sponsor, Cars.com, has pulled out for this week and next, when Penn State plays Ohio State.
Meanwhile, thousands of students gathered outside the Old Main administrative building on campus Friday night, not for a pep rally but a candlelight vigil for child-abuse victims.
Various student speakers addressed the crowd from the steps of Old Main, as did LaVar Arrington, a former North Hills High School standout who starred for the Nittany Lions in the late 1990s.
"We have been the standard for so long," Arrington said. "This serves as the ultimate wake up call.
"Let's make tonight the starting point for setting the standard again."
Penn State candlelight vigil in support of abused children
Thousands of Penn State students gathered outside the Old Main administrative building on campus Friday night for a candlelight vigil in support of abused children. Former linebacker LaVar Arrington spoke during the gathering.