On the front of Nathaniel Frederick’s car is a vanity license plate.
That plate on the Winthrop professor’s car is of a cat. A lion for this guy who is not a jock, and played no ball. A Nittany Lion is there nonetheless. Because Frederick, proudly for many years, wanted anybody who saw him coming that he was, once in his life and that means forever in college sports, from Penn State.
Penn State football is not a team. It is a culture, Frederick said, a way of life for Pennsylvania and its more than half-million alumni around the country and world.
When the chant went out in bars and restaurants and grocery store aisles – “We are ... Penn State” – anybody with a connection puffed out a chest and said: “That is me. Us.”
So when Frederick answered the phone Monday, he knew what the call was about.
“Today,” said Frederick, “was a sad day for Penn State. But today was totally appropriate. Without question.”
Monday, Frederick’s “today,” the NCAA stripped away all the football team’s wins from 1998 to 2011. The NCAA fined the school $60 million – what the lucrative Penn State football team makes in a year. It took away scholarships and banned the team from bowls for four years and more. Not for changing grades or paying players secretly or other jock-type nonsense involving shameless boosters. But because, simply, a former assistant football coach, for years, molested kids.
The actions were reported, found out, and the football coach who was a legend and had a statue of him, and the administration, didn’t do a thing about it.
For years, as touchdowns racked up, children screamed in agony and terror.
That is why Frederick, a man of books and brains, of knowledge, can say his alma mater for graduate studies deserved what it got, and maybe should have received worse. And who knows if Penn State – and its huge alumni base that includes people right here in Fort Mill and Rock Hill – ever will get over the scandal and the shame?
“What these people did, supposedly trying to protect the school, they ended up possibly doing irreparable harm to Penn State,” said Frederick, the professor. “I believe in Penn State, the educational institution. Penn State will recover. But it is a tough, long road ahead.”
Frederick explained Monday how football culture at Penn State is not male, or athletics. It is pride and family and shared success, thought for so long to be done the right way.
Anybody older than 45 can remember 39 years ago, when John Cappelletti of Penn State won the Heisman Trophy, and cried when saying he won it for his cancer-stricken, dying brother. That was Penn State.
“Penn State is family,” said Frederick. “Football is the connection for so many. It unites people there.”
Penn State is those plain-Jane uniforms without numbers on the helmets, and black shoes, and rough, tough players with teeth knocked out.
Now, Penn State is known to the whole world after the worst scandal in college football history as the place that did nothing to protect kids from a monster. The famous coach who won more than anybody, Joe Paterno, did nothing. The top brass did less. Kids were mauled.
What happened at Penn State, said Frederick the proud alum, is unacceptable, wrong, and must be punished. Football and victories must come after the safety of kids.
Yet Penn State milked the cash cow, the one sold for a handful of magic beans of turning the other cheek and staying silent in the face of evil, until the troll was caught.
But this fable, this nursery rhyme, had no escaping children from the beast under the bridge.
The stand-up guy in charge of the Charlotte-area Penn State alums, alumni chapter president Mark Reed, said Monday that Penn State is part of him and so many. His father went there, too. But the inaction of so many who failed to even try to keep kids safe, to seek justice against a monster, is inexcusable in a way that far transcends football, sports, or even love for school.
“Alumni are mad at that administration, but there are some who might say that the penalties are too harsh,” Reed said Monday. “But this is not about football. Nothing eclipses what happened to those kids.”
Penn State always was about right and wrong. Players were a step out of the coal mines of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, where the children of immigrants turned into football stars. It was, Penn State.
Penn State has great alums of brains and brawn, and tremendous loyalty of its proud alumni. The alumni who have given their hearts and souls to supporting the school and team deserve better.
Because now, like it or not, Penn State’s football legacy is wins, national titles, plain uniforms, and shame.