Category Archives: Happy Valley

Time Capsule: Revisiting the Paterno Scandal

As a high schooler in Pennsylvania, the news of the Sandusky scandal and Joe Paterno’s removal as head coach for Penn State reverberated in my town.  At the time, I actually didn’t know very much about Penn State, and I did not really suspect that I would eventually become a part of the Penn State community.  In fact, news of the scandal did more to dissuade me from considering Penn State than anything else.  (Of course, my views on this matter have significantly changed, and I am very happy as a student here).  But despite not having a previous connection to Penn State, the more I learned about Paterno, the more I was intrigued. Here was a man celebrated by his community, even deified, who was reduced to tarnish and ruin (almost literally) overnight.  It seemed almost Shakespearean.  Paterno was responsible for so much good at Penn State: a wonderful, brand new library, an athletic program that valued education above all else, and a culture of utmost moral integrity.  And yet, was Paterno not afflicted by some hubris surrounding his success? Here also was a living man who would allow a larger-than-life statue of himself to be erected in front of his stadium, while he was still coaching. But a huge, bronze statue does not a man make, and Paterno was not bronze- he was a human, capable of mistakes (even huge mistakes).

I wrote an article for my school newspaper about Paterno, which I have copied below.  It’s a little strange to look back on a recent time in my life when Penn State was much more of an abstract than solid reality. Now that Penn State has become a large part of my identity, the story has taken on much more meaning.

(December 2011)

One can hear the resounding cries as the team enters Beaver Stadium: Joe Pa! Joe Pa! Joe Pa! 

The Caesar of Happy Valley has a history of success and greatness: a narrative of triumph for a university raised from the furrows of rural isolation to the standing of a nationally recognized institution.

Hailing from the prestige of Brown University, Paterno lead Penn State to victory on the football field through his dedication and ambition, and he reaped the spoils of battle throughout a long and successful career: 409 victories, five undefeated teams, twenty four bowl wins, two national championships, and an induction into into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Paterno and his teams earned honors not simply for their knowledge and performance of the game, but for how well they performed academically, earning the title of highest player graduation rate among other top football programs.  For him, the measure of the man did not take place on the field but rather in the classroom– tackling studies always came before tackling players.

And as Joe Paterno built the empire that is Penn State football, the rest of the school rejoiced in the benefits it brought to the University as a whole: national and international interest.  Penn State was not just another state college in the middle of nowhere, but something far greater: a vibrant college town in a tight-knit community centered around a university ranked academically among the top fifteen public colleges in the nation.

The school’s love for Paterno was anything but subtle; a bronze statue in his likeness in front of Beaver Stadium, built in 2001, proves the allegiance and gratitude of the people.

But if Paterno was so celebrated a figure, how could his legacy have ended so abruptly? 

In 2001, Paterno allegedly was alerted to the inappropriate actions of Jerry Sandusky.  What exactly he knew is unclear, but what he knew he reported to the athletic director.   From all reports, his action stopped there.  Perhaps the crown of laurels he wore had made him deaf over the shouts of an adoring crowd, or perhaps incapable of understanding the magnitude of the accusations. 

Sandusky’s alleged deceit and manipulation may have revealed Paterno’s tragic flaw– in the coach’s own words– “I should have done more.” There are matters much greater than a championship, a stadium, a university library.

The institution Joe Paterno had worked so hard to create hastily called for his removal from the throne.

Riots that then broke out shortly after Paterno’s ousting were a testament to the confusion, the anger, and ultimately the tragedy.  Penn State burned with the conviction that Paterno was a man of integrity– one who could not possibly ignore such an egregious fault– and that their hero was not flawed, but rather under siege from a ruthless media.  The haste with which both sides jumped to action reflects the chaos of the situation– one embroiled in misinformation, assumption, and confusion. 

Perhaps Shakespeare in his tragedies reminds his readers of man’s mortality.  He is a mere mortal who struggles in the face of all odds: sometimes he may stumble, even at times when the world counts on him to stand tall in the face of adversity.

The tradition, the community, and the family of academics and athletes has benefitted immensely from Joe Paterno’s reign, but what will remain of Paterno’s legacy might best be stated in the words of Shakespeare’s Marc Antony: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” 


The News Van Flipping: A Tragedy?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about in the title of this blog, here’s a video to remind you. During the Penn State protests over JoePa being fired, there was a WTAJ news van on what appeared to be College Avenue. After protesters messed up its windshield and destroyed most of the exterior, it was time to flip the van! Also, if you watch that video, look at the phones people are taking the videos with. 2011 throwback!

Look at how messed up that thing is. kind of crazy how rioters would just go after a news van like that. Thank god it wasn’t reporting any news and was just kind of hanging out downtown.

Wait what?

Okay so WTAJ is my local TV News station. It’s about a four minute drive and I had to go past it every day on my way to school. That van had been replaced about three years earlier, so it was just sitting in the parking lot of the WTAJ station. So, they clearly put it downtown expecting something to happen. Now, maybe they just knew riots would break out in Beaver Canyon and wanted to be on the scene, but everyone knew that riots would happen. Realistically, they knew what was gonna happen and decided to put a van there to get flipped and they could get national coverage (they did).

Which is pretty shitty. People got in a lot of trouble for flipping this van. Which kind of shows you that in today’s “everyone has a phone environment” it’s hard to riot. Wear a bandanna over your face. I understand that the van was flipped and it’s vandalism, but come on. College students drink, riot, and study in that order of importance.

So if you, like me, are kind of pissed at WTAJ, tweet at them. I’d recommend @JoeMurgo, the weather man, because it’s an Altoona tradition to get blocked from his Twitter.

Penn State Response to Happy Valley

When I was researching Happy Valley online after watching the film in class, I came upon an OnwardState article reviewing the faults in the film.  The article was titled “Five Reasons Why the ‘Happy Valley’ Documentary Sucks” clearly expressing the opinion of the author, as if the bias wasn’t already apparent enough due to it being written by a Penn State student.  After reading through the article, I found on some points the author had made a somewhat valid point but others were either completely false or the clear bias the author had interfered with the message the film was trying to send.

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The authors first point is that: The film fails to explore, or even mention, any of the ambiguity surrounding the key facts of the case.  He then goes on to explain how the film doesn’t spend enough time addressing the events that happened in 2001, failed to accurately depict the Penn State environment, and the belief in the Penn State community that there was no institutional coverup.  In this section, I can see a lot of what the author is saying, as in a lot of the scenes (especially in the riot and crowd scene) Penn Staters are shown as cult-like and senseless.  I disagree though, that the events of 2001 were not covered enough.  In my opinion, the film was more about the reaction of the community and impact on the community than solely covering the events in the Jerry Sandusky case.

Secondly, the author states:The film only included interview clips from one student, who came off as crazy and isn’t at all representative of what most (or really, any other) students were feeling.  As discussed in class, the director deliberately chose this student as to show the extreme view point for most people who were more uncertain or in the middle with their viewpoints would be less expressive.  I also thought that the use of extreme characters in the film, allowed for no one viewpoint to be portrayed as more strong than the other; thus allowing the audience to decide for themselves what they thought.

happy valley 2

Next, he claimed: The film fails to disclose its subjects’ biases, and the interviewees most critical of the “Penn State culture” are presented without any sort of critical eye.  In this section he refers to Andrew Shubin who was the attorney for many of Sandusky’s victims and believes that the film failed to show that this bias impacted his statements in the film.  I’m pretty sure that in the film it was stated that he was representing some of the victims, but nevertheless some of his statements I did find false such as that everyone was aware of the situation with Sandusky.  As a student not very interested in sports, I don’t even know any of the players names so I can’t imagine that many people knew who the assistant couch was off the top of their head.  In this section, the author also critiqued Matt Sandusky’s point.  After the film, Matt received a settlement from the University and some believe that his timeline doesn’t add up.  I don’t think it is right to accuse a victim of sexual assault and say that their story is false and they are using it for money.  As shown in the film, Matt lost both his biological and adopted family and its hard to believe that he would do this all simply for money.

The next point is:What is presented as a cross-section of the Penn State community isn’t really a cross-section at all.  In this section he again points out how the film uses extreme viewpoints, which I have already expressed was used because these are the people that actually have opinions on the issue and would want to share.  Similar to Stories We Tell, Happy Valley didn’t intend to portray one side of a story but rather get a wide variety of versions of the same story.

His final point is that: the Story isn’t Over.  I believe that this is simply a result of time, either the filmmaker could have waited 10 more years and still not have potentially had all the facts or presented the film when he felt it was in its entirety.

A separate complaint I have of the film is that though it slightly addressed the idea that this wasn’t just a Penn State problem and that child sexual abusers can be anywhere, I don’t think it did enough to emphasize this idea.  It constantly questioned how this could happen in a place like Penn State, but didn’t acknowledge that this abuse, sadly, happens everyday all over the country and goes largely unnoticed.  Perhaps at the end of the film when Sue Paterno was trying to raise awareness more emphasis could have been placed on this fact.  I believe this would have allowed the film to offer a greater social impact and not just a reflection on the situation at Penn State.