Penn State University alumna Julie Hersch, among the thousands of fans picnicking outside Beaver Stadium in the twilight, said yesterday helped her separate scandal from sport.
The Nittany Lions lost to the University of Nebraska 17-14 in their first football game since child sex-abuse charges against a former assistant coach rocked the campus and resulted in the firing of school President Graham B. Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno. The result mattered less to Hersch than the conduct of the team, fans and students.
“It helped me realize that the football isn’t about the scandal,” said Hersch, 45, who graduated in 1988. She said her initial reaction to the indictment was disgust.
Nebraska won after Penn State came back from a 17-0 deficit in the third quarter, with senior Stephfon Green scoring both of the Nittany Lions’ touchdowns.
“I was awful proud of them,” Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley said in a televised interview immediately after the game. “They showed a lot of character, a lot of resolve.”
Paterno, 84, was fired after a major-college-record 409 victories, amid criticism that he didn’t do enough to stop the alleged abuse. Gone, too, are Spanier, the athletic director and a vice president. A former quarterback and assistant coach who state prosecutors say told Paterno about an assault on a boy in the football locker-room shower in 2002 by Jerry Sandusky, the one-time defensive coordinator, is on administrative leave after receiving threats.
Nebraska took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter on a 41-yard field goal by Brett Maher. The Cornhuskers extended it to 10-0 when Ameer Abdullah scored on a 5-yard run in the final minute of the first half.
Penn State trailed 17-0 in the third quarter after Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead scored on a 14-yard run. Green scored his first touchdown on Penn State’s next possession, completing a nine-play, 82-yard drive. He scored again on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The Nittany Lions’ final effort failed when quarterback Matthew McGloin threw incomplete on fourth-and-one from the Penn State 46.
‘Out of Whack’
“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” Bradley said at a news conference after the game. “We were just a little bit out of whack.”
Penn State is 8-2 for the season, 5-1 in the Big Ten Conference and was 12th in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, which determine the national championship matchup and entry into other top-tier postseason games. The Cornhuskers (8-2, 4-2) from Lincoln, Nebraska, were ranked 19th in the BCS in their first season in the Big Ten.
Authorities had instituted tighter security at the stadium, and the university said in a press release that it received a bomb threat the night before yesterday’s game. Law enforcement authorities searched the building with bomb-sniffing dogs and found nothing.
Before the game, Penn State players locked arms and walked onto the field together, rather than sprinting en masse as they usually do. Students wept as the Penn State Blue Band played the Alma Mater. The last verse begins, “May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” Former Penn State football players were on the sidelines.
Stuck in the Middle
Hersch, whose husband, Kurt, also is a Penn State graduate, said she felt bad for current football players who never played for Sandusky, who retired in 1999, and weren’t even students when the attack in the shower allegedly occurred.
“People felt for the football players because they were sadly put in the middle of this,” Julie Hersch said.
During the game, the crowd supported the team with cheers of “We are Penn State!,” booed questionable calls by officials and applauded the players at the end when their final effort to win failed.
Fans showed support for child-abuse victims by wearing blue, which coincides with the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse. The “Blue Out” was announced on a Facebook page to support “victims of child abuse worldwide.” Penn State students usually wear white T-shirts in a game-day tradition known as the “White Out.”
Students, alumni and community members held a candlelight vigil for abuse victims the night before the game on the steps of Old Main, the university’s administration building.
“People who have deep connections to Penn State are grieving,” Laura Bodenschatz, a university researcher and mother of a freshman at the school, told the crowd, estimated by organizers at about 10,000 people. “We have to come to terms with the fact that even leaders that we trust the most are fallible.”
In a news conference two days ago, Rodney Erickson, appointed to replace Spanier as president, said that Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck & Co. and a board of trustees member, would lead an investigation of the case. The U.S. Department of Education said last week that it would investigate whether federal laws were broken. Moody’s Investors Service put Penn State’s Aa1 rating of about $1 billion in bonds on review.
Sandusky, 67, was released on $100,000 unsecured bail on Nov. 5 after appearing on charges involving sexual abuse of children when he ran The Second Mile, a charitable organization for young people. The charges involve sexual assaults or advances on eight boys from 1994 to 2009, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly.
Athletic Director Timothy Curley, 57, and Gary Schultz, 62, a senior vice president who oversaw the university police, were arraigned on charges of perjury and failing to report the allegations. The school announced on Nov. 7 that Schultz would step down and return to retirement, while Curley would be placed on administrative leave to focus on his defense.
The grand jury report says that in 2002, Mike McQueary, then a graduate student and now an assistant coach, witnessed Sandusky in a shower at the university’s football building sexually assaulting a boy, estimated to be around 10 years old. The report says McQueary told Paterno about what he saw -- it doesn’t specify how much detail he provided.
After meeting with McQueary, Schultz and Curley reported to Spanier, 63, who banned Sandusky from bringing children from his charity in the university’s football building, according to the report. Spanier told the grand jury he was unaware that the incident was sexual in nature.
“It does appear that certainly some individuals were afraid to make known what they had seen,” Erickson said yesterday. “Never again should anyone at Penn State, regardless of their position, be scared to do the right thing.”
The Pennsylvania legislature is likely to pass a new child sex-abuse reporting law by the end of the year, Tom Corbett, 62, a Republican who was elected governor last year, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today.
“When people see something like this, or hear something like this, we need to investigate right away,” Corbett said. “We’ve lost focus on what’s in the best interests of the child.”
Penn State officials said on Nov. 10 that McQueary wouldn’t be at yesterday’s game because he had received threats. Erickson said McQueary, who played for Penn State from 1994-97, had been placed on administrative leave.
“It became clear that under the circumstances he would not be able to function in a coaching role,” Erickson said.
Outside Beaver Stadium after the game, the Hersches, who have children 11 and 8 years old, hosted about a half-dozen friends at their tailgate party. They served sausages and chili, and reflected on the moment of silence and prayer the teams shared before the game.
“It was really touching,” Julie Hersch said. “I was very proud to be a Penn Stater.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com