Football is supposed to be fun.
The graphic details of the Jerry Sandusky case and the heavy sanctions levied against the Penn State football program by the NCAA this summer have made that an easy thing to forget.
But when the Nittany Lions kick off their 2012 season tomorrow against Ohio, fans will have a chance to escape the malaise and be swept away by 60 minutes of action on the Beaver Stadium turf, many with families and friends.
They should relish the opportunity.
Familiar refrains of “remember the victims” will likely continue to come from the outside — and at this point, that goes without saying. As it’s been said, enthusiasm toward football and a sense of the severity of the Sandusky case can coexist. There’s no one who will walk into Beaver Stadium this Saturday who does not have, in some way, their thoughts on the pain felt by those Sandusky abused.
Support and respect for those who have experienced abuse is ever-present in this community now. We’re reminded of this in the blue ribbons added to the team’s helmets and the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and the “Blue Out” planned for the Temple game later this month and the other steps Penn Staters have taken to stand up against child abuse with actions.
With that in mind, there’s no reason to be ashamed of rooting for a football team, especially one with so many players who have taken it upon themselves to help the community heal. The sanctions allowed them to transfer immediately and head for programs still allowed to play in bowl and conference championship games. All but nine of them stayed.
Their decisions to stand by the community rather than leave for a school where the competitive outlook might be brighter should be celebrated, and this game allows students, alumni and fans to come together to do that.
There could be tough times on the field ahead, perhaps even on Saturday. The Bobcats are a good team and there’s a chance the Lions could struggle to get their first win of the Bill O’Brien era.
Those on the team have said this season is bigger than wins or losses, though, and fans need to recognize that. If the defense gives up a damaging touchdown or the offense commits a costly turnover, be respectful and don’t boo.
In the grand scheme of things, football obstacles aren’t nearly as important as moving forward with the healing process. If fans live and die with the team’s results in the coming years, they likely come away disappointed more frequently than they’d like.
Scholarship reductions will hamper the team’s ability to compete at the highest levels by leaving the roster shorter on talent than most Big Ten foes. Mediocre records are to be expected.
But if fans can appreciate the value of being able to gather a few Saturdays every fall and celebrate their unity as much as they celebrate victories, the transition won’t be quite so unbearable.
So wherever fans decide to watch the game, be it at the stadium, in a restaurant or at home on the couch, they should feel free to enjoy football as they always have and make sure this new era for Penn State starts with a positive experience they can feel good about for years to come.
After all, football is supposed to be fun.