Lately, “football culture” has become a kind of catchall phrase to describe everything that went wrong at Penn State — a quick way to paint the entire university community as reverential toward athletics and focused on winning at all costs.
So with that football culture in mind, it could be easy to step back and assume that yesterday’s “Rise and Rally” event was the latest example of Penn State’s blind emphasis on protecting football in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case. Not so.
The thousands who gathered outside of Holuba Hall as the sun came up Tuesday weren’t there in protest of the week-old NCAA’s sanctions against the football program.
They didn’t wake up early solely to hope for wins or to vindicate the program’s reputation.
Instead, “Rise and Rally” sent a simple message that went both ways: We’re here for you.
The students, alumni, community members and others showed up to give the team a morale boost as the season approaches.
The football players and coaches, relaxed and open, showed their fans support in return.
Quarterback Matt McGloin, after the event, said it made him “more focused” on why he was at Penn State and reminded him why he played the game — for his family, the fans and the coaches.
When asked what “Rise and Rally” said about the Penn State community, linebacker Gerald Hodges responded, “It just tells you how strong our family really is.”
Those at yesterday’s event did nothing they should be ashamed of, and in no way does someone’s attendance at the event diminish his or her sensitivity to the issue of child abuse. It’s possible to both understand the gravity of the crimes that took place on university grounds and stand by the football team.
The football culture at Penn State is tied to the Sandusky case — but it’s not defined by it. It’s more than bowl games and wins and Joe Paterno. To many, it’s a source of unity and a family in its own right, and that’s been the case for ages, win or lose.
In yesterday's dawn, the Penn State community got a reminder that some parts of its football culture are worth holding onto.