Before Lauren Davis finished writing her editorial about Joe Paterno for The Daily Collegian, Penn State's student-run newspaper, she braced for the response.
The piece she wrote, an editorial reflecting the opinion of about a dozen editors at the paper, said the university "needed a reality check" after it announced plans to commemorate Paterno at Saturday's Penn State-Temple football game, where it hosted a celebration of his first game as coach of the Nittany Lions, 50 years earlier.
Davis, the opinions editor, wrote that it's wasn't the right time or the right way to honor Paterno when current students associate him with Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant coach who was found to be a serial child molester.
"This is our Penn State. It is a Penn State without Joe Paterno," she wrote, adding, "Those of us here now are beyond ready to move on."
Davis, a junior from Lancaster, Pa., received hundreds of emails and online reader comments — most of them negative, and many that appeared to have been written by alumni. She was called a "clueless treacherous traitor" and told to resign from the paper or transfer to another university. She was accused of hating her university and hating football, and knowing nothing about Penn State history. She was called an idiot and other words that I can't use.
One man wrote, "I hope God can forgive you for your actions, I sure the hell can't."
The vitriol threw Davis off, especially because so many of the attacks came from graduates from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. This wasn't educated debate. It was parents and grandparents with pitchforks decrying Davis' and the newspaper's thoughtful opinion — all to protect a man who may have enabled Sandusky's crimes by not acting to stop them. Testimony in one lawsuit claimed that Paterno was told as far back as 1976 that Sandusky was abusing a child.
It was groupthink at its worst: blind allegiance of sports fans who so often toss aside reason in the name of big-ticket sports at their alma mater. Penn State's decision to honor Paterno was a manifestation of that.
Though she has been accused of having no allegiance, Davis comes from a Penn State family. Her father, her grandfather and two uncles are alumni. But her Penn State experience is nothing like her family's, she said.
Last summer, for example, she was on a trip in North Carolina and someone noticed her Penn State T-shirt. They yelled, "How's Sandusky?"
Embarrassing. Just like the reaction to her editorial.
Just like Penn State's inexplicable decision to publicly cheer for a coach only five years after he was fired amid a child-abuse scandal, as the facts of the case are still unfolding.
—New York Times