The gravity of the ongoing Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal at Penn State transcends sports altogether. As ESPN commentator, former NFL general manager and Penn State alum Matt Millen tearfully attested to on Tuesday, it cuts to the core of our society's purported core values of safety and honesty, let alone other wholesome attributes.
Still, at the end of the day, the Sandusky scandal could also threaten one of the great programs in college football history. With the Nittany Lions in the midst of their annual recruiting push, athletes who have already committed to the program or are seriously consider the Big Ten power could now reconsider and defect to other major programs. The threat of those defections becomes even stronger with the announcement of legendary coach Joe Paterno's impending retirement at the end of the season.
That appeared to be what one top recruit was doing on Tuesday, via the very public arena of Twitter. Yet, when the player publicly said he wasn't interested in Penn State any longer, something fascinating happened: Penn State fans swamped him with messages of support and seemed to convince him to keep considering the program after all, via the sheer force of positive feelings.
The player in question is Noah Spence, the Harrisburg (Penn.) Bishop McDevitt School defensive end who is among the nation's top-20 prospects regardless of position. Spence is a 5-star recruit, unquestionably one of the nation's best prep athletes, and a potential program changer from the moment he steps on whichever college campus he eventually arrives at.
On Monday, Spence wrote the following Tweets which, if taken literally, essentially questioned any chance of his future in a Penn State uniform.
@nspence94 "Um psu might be a no no for me ewwww"
@nspence94 "@magic_of_macy i kind of just dnt want to be apart of that"
Within moments of firing off his Tweets, Spence was inundated by Penn State fans who begged him not to let the Sandusky scandal affect his view of the school, or the football program in particular. After a smattering of various Tweets across a calendar day, Spence continued responding to individual users, including the following interaction with Penn State fan Brian Freas.
@nspence94 "@bwfreasPSU I won't"
That Twitter interaction reinforced quotes from Spence's father, Greg Spence, who assured PennLive.com that his son was still considering playing for the Nittany Lions despite the scandal and the suddenly uncertain future of legendary head coach Joe Paterno.
"We still have a great deal of respect for Penn State, a great deal of respect for Joe Paterno and [defensive line coach] Larry Johnson and a great deal of respect for Coach [Tom] Bradley [the Lions' defensive coordinator]," Greg Spence told PennLive.com.
"The allegations are horrendous and I was very upset to read any allegations like that, that had Penn State's name tie to it, but we just have to sit back and let things play out."
Whether or not actions play out that land the younger Spence at Penn State remains to be seen. Still, the enthusiastic response from the Nittany Lions football community in the midst of a devastating scandal may have only reinforced some of the things that drew the defensive end to Penn State initially … and still may land him at Happy Valley in the end.
"I think the best way to handle this as a parent, and for Noah to handle it as a student-athlete, is to just wait and see and try and gather as many facts as you can as they come out," Greg Spence added.
"We do have relationships with a number of Penn State staff members in the athletic department that we trust and we trust their word. So until, you know, we find proof that the people you know are not who they really are … we'll cross that bridge at that time."