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Penn State scandal leaves NFL alumni in emotional disarray

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

 

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As the details of the Penn State scandal have been made public, the outrage over the actions of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been universal. The feelings toward now ex-head coach Joe Paterno, who was fired by the school's board of trustees in what will certainly be a clean sweep of the football program, appear to be far more conflicted, and that begins among the men who used to play football for him, and now do so in the NFL.

Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson expressed his thoughts on the matter on Wednesday, and he had to stop to collect himself several times when he spoke of the devastation done to the children Sandusky allegedly abused, and to the memories of the university that helped Robinson and so many others live their dreams.

"First of all, I want to express my deep sorrow for the children that are involved — I have three kids myself, and I can't imagine what those families are going through today and have gone through in the past," Robinson said. "I think … it's a sad day to be a Penn Stater."

Robinson, who played quarterback for Paterno from 2002 through 2005, also talked about what was then the possibility of Paterno's departure from the school. "I don't agree with that, but that's Joe — that's the type of guy he is. He doesn't want to be a distraction and he doesn't like a lot of people talking about this. I know he wishes he could have some things back — he's not a perfect guy — but what he stands for as a man and what he's meant to college football and to me personally in my life, that's another reason I'm so sad today. It's just sad how … some sick people can tarnish a great man like that."

[Audio: Listen to Michael Robinson talk about the Penn State scandal]

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Receiver Deon Butler, Robinson's teammate in Seattle, played for the Nittany Lions from 2005 to 2008, and also talked about it on Wednesday. "Well, first off, I just want to say that the kids are the victims here if these allegations are true. That's the first thing — we pray for them and hope everything works out well for them and their families. Second, if you know the man that Joe is over the years — obviously, I know what he stands for and all that, so he definitely has our full support here. He'll never lose support of the former players that he has."

Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott played at Penn State from 1999 through 2002 and roomed with Sandusky's son Jon on road trips. His reaction typified what the players who specifically played for Sandusky have said, based on the public face they knew. "Completely floored. I would've never imagined this," Scott said. "He was a stand-up guy the way he interacted with the team, and even around the kids."

Former Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles fullback Jon Ritchie, who did not go to Penn State but has known Sandusky since he was 14 years old and was first recruited to go there, said in an emotional ESPN segment on Friday morning that he thought Sandusky was "what I wanted to be when I was old enough to be that. When I first retired from professional football, my first thought was I should call Jerry and see if he'll let me join The Second Mile."

Ritchie also said that his mother was considering quitting her teaching job at one point and volunteering for The Second Mile. That's how buffaloed Sandusky had everybody in Pennsylvania. Even when rumors came out about Sandusky's misdeeds in 2009, Ritchie was one of many who thought that it was "probably a disgruntled kid who had something in for Jerry.  Now, I think we all know that that is not the case.  That this is horrendous, horrifying, and tragic."

"I can't fathom sports right now," Ritchie said. "I don't even care about sports right now because this picture of what I thought was good has exploded.

"It was impossible for me to conceive that this took place.  This has caused me to re-evaluate everything I think is real around me. My reality was Jerry Sandusky was Mother Theresa and I know all those kids -- all those victims -- felt the same way because that's what he elicited in you."

Former Penn State standout linebacker LaVar Arrington, who made three Pro Bowls in the NFL and now hosts a popular radio show in the Washington, D.C., area, has said that it was Sandusky who recognized his own abilities and was key to his own development.

And that went to the heart of Arrington's internal conflict.

"My experiences with coach Sandusky are memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life," Arrington wrote in his Washington Post blog on Monday. "I can honestly say that coach Sandusky was always fun to be around and genuinely cared about us as people. He always made it a point to help guide us in the direction of being better.

"He was always very active in trying to help troubled youths and often asked me to take time out of my schedule to spend time with the kids that he would bring around the facility. I remember distinctly playing soccer games in the locker room with a taped-up towel. It meant a lot to me to help brighten the day of a child who had issues at home. I never saw or felt anything that would've made me uncomfortable or even felt that inappropriate things were taking place. For what it's worth, I too was just a kid back then, why would I think that Jerry of all people could possibly be capable of doing such things?"

Just a few days later, as more victims came forward, and as the true extent of the horror came to light, Arrington's feelings had turned to an extreme degree.

"I have an enormous amount of anger and disappointment toward Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator who has been charged with 40 counts related to the sexual abuse of children.

"I was taught never to hate a person but rather to hate their ways and pray for them. Well, with all due respect, I'm not really in the praying mood. In a moment of true honesty, I must admit: I do believe this is the closest I have ever been to hating someone.

"To think that this one man's actions destroyed so much. Why, Jerry? Why?"

Paul Posluszny, who now plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was a two-time All-American at "Linebacker U," spoke to the mixed feelings about Paterno from his former players. "To me, Joe Paterno is still a great man and he will always be a legend. Unfortunately his legacy will be tainted, obviously, by this. That's unfortunate, but that's the reality of the situation."

Arrington may have best summed up the internal conflict when it comes to Paterno's legacy.

"I am aware that innocent children suffered and that Paterno should've done more to fulfill his moral duties. But if people could see the deeds and the heart of Joe, they would see a man truly dedicated to helping others: men, women and children. I believe that.

"Even though it may seem to sound like a contradiction, it isn't. This man truly cared about others, and I'm saddened that a lapse in judgment could destroy everything Joe Paterno worked so hard to build."

Yes, it's much bigger than a "lapse in judgment" that Paterno knew of Sandusky's actions and did not do enough, but that's what we see on the outside. The men who played for Paterno and Sandusky are not victims, but they are now left to sift through feelings that are more complex than most about the matter.

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