The Penn State football scandal has been dominating not only the national sports news over the past few days, but the story has moved from the front page of the sports section of newspapers throughout the country to the front page of the papers themselves.
Given the horrific charges that have come against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, allegations so incomprehensible that it brought down 45-year head coach Joe Paterno in the process, the reaction around the country has been one of shock and dismay. In Pennsylvania, however, the news is being taken with an even deeper sense of disbelief and shame.
Vikings rookie Brandon Fusco spent his entire life in Pennsylvania prior to being drafted by the Vikings and he said the word back home has been one of betrayal and that one of the most prestigious football programs, viewed by most as being as clean a major college football program as any in the country, has effectively been killed as more allegations come to light about the long-term conspiracy to keep the story not only quiet, but, due to the lack of accountability, allowed it to perpetuate over the years.
Fusco said he still has respect for Paterno, but said the severity of the allegations has brought one of the strongest programs in the nation to its knees and, more importantly, has lost the trust of many devoted fans.
"It's all anyone back home is talking about," Fusco said. "His legacy is pretty much demolished right now. There's a lot of people talking back home, but it's just a sad thing to see this happen to a legend like him and a program like that. As a Pennsylvania guy, I'm pretty disappointed in what I've been hearing."
For Minnesotans, the love and admiration Pennsylvanians have for Paterno is almost beyond definition. Is he bigger in Pennsylvania than Bud Grant was in Minnesota? Or Bear Bryant in Alabama? Or Bobby Knight in Indiana? Fusco believes without question.
"If you made a list of all the top coaches in their areas of the country, you'd have to put him on the top of that list," Fusco said. "He brought something special to football in PA. To see a guy go down on a case like that – it wasn't his fault, but, from what we're hearing, some of it is his fault because he knew something was wrong a long time ago. It's just sad to see, because he was kind of a god in Pennsylvania."
While Fusco said the sentiment back home was that Paterno had to go, he said he felt he and his players got a raw deal in the timing of his firing. Paterno was willing to take the inevitable backlash that would come, but he remained committed to his team and vice versa. Fusco said he agreed that this scandal should end his coaching career, but the hammer shouldn't have come down as it did Wednesday night.
"For them to fire him like they did, I think that was a little too harsh," Fusco said. "I would have liked to see him be able to finish the season – finish off what he started with his players. Us PA guys, we love (Paterno). I understand that some really bad things have happened around him, but just believe he should be able to finish out the season."
Fusco said the depth of pain that is felt in Pennsylvania is significant. Not only do their hearts go out to the youngsters, most if not all of them children of Pennsylvania, but to the current players that committed to Penn State because they wanted to play for Paterno and his program. While they will recover much more easily than the children that were traumatized by Sandusky, they are also victims in this growing circle of culpability rising from the scandal.
"Obviously, what happened to those kids is a tragedy," Fusco said. "It's something you hate to even think is possible, but they happen. There are a lot of victims in this whole thing, including the Penn State players. They did nothing wrong and most of them chose Penn State over a lot of other top schools that were recruiting them. Now they have no idea what their future holds. It's a bad situation for so many people beyond what happened with (Sandusky)."
Fusco said there is a shared sense of sadness in Pennsylvania, because even those who didn't play for the Nittany Lions felt a sense of pride in PSU as being "their" college – much in the same way people from throughout Minnesota view the Gophers as "their" college team. Fusco said the headlines will fade away, but the mark left by the child abuse scandal will last years after the media swarm moves on to its next salacious story.
"I think it will tarnish that program for not just the next few months, but for years and years to come," Fusco said. "I hate to say it, but I think Penn State football and the university itself is in trouble with recruiting and bringing in anyone who might be on the fence of going there or somewhere else. It's a tragedy. This story is going to carry on for a long, long time. It's not just going to go away in a week or two. It's going to be a dark cloud that hangs over that program for a long time to come."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Fusco feels Pennsylvania's pain
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