Penn State football players have the right to leave. We all agree, right? Almost all of them had options out of high school, scholarship offers from big-time football schools. They chose Penn State, one of the best and brightest programs in the country.
Now look at Penn State. The school is scorned nationally, and the football program is toxic. Lots of people wanted the NCAA to give Penn State the death penalty, and not just for punitive reasons. Some folks just can't stomach the idea of Penn State football players being cheered by 106,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.
Nobody on the current roster will play for a conference or national title, not if he stays at Penn State. The school faces those sanctions for legitimate reasons, but those reasons have nothing to do with the players there now. So if they choose to transfer -- to go somewhere with a better chance of winning, with any chance of winning something meaningful -- most of us would understand.
Because Penn State players have the right to leave.
They also have the right to stay.
You're on board with that, too, right? It's a multiple-choice question facing those players, with more than one correct answer. One answer is to leave, and Godspeed to anyone who does. But another answer is to stay, and to stay without being sneered at for choosing that school, that disgusting place that looked the other way as evil was walking through the football facilities in the form of Jerry Sandusky.
See, to Penn State's players, this school isn't that school. It's their school. Their dream. Their home. And if they choose to stay, well, I'll choose to admire them -- because few qualities are more admirable than loyalty.
Loyalty when things are going great? That's not loyalty. That's easy, and loyalty isn't easy. Derek Jeter plays his entire career with the Yankees, and that's wonderful, but that isn't loyalty. Choosing to stay with the most iconic franchise in American sports, one that outspends everyone else to put itself in prime postseason position every year? That's a smart move for Jeter. It's a terrific position for him to be in. But it's not loyalty -- it's easy.
Loyalty is tested when things aren't going great, and either you have it or you don't. You bail on the Atlanta Falcons after 13 games without Michael Vick, because you didn't sign up to coach that team without that quarterback -- as Bobby Petrino bailed late in the 2007 season -- or you don't. You leave the Saints at their lowest moment, their reputation in the dumpster and their coach suspended for the 2012 season, or you do like Marques Colston did this offseason and refuse to look at free agency.
It's not easy, loyalty, which is why I'm going to be so impressed with the players who stick it out at Penn State. Unimpressed with those who leave? Nope, not at all. This isn't an either/or situation. The guys who leave, if there are any, will have that right. Coveted tailback Silas Redd and the rest of them have one shot at this world, just one, and if they think another school will give them the memories, the coaching, the NFL springboard that they assumed would be there at Penn State, then by all means they should go. It's their life, not mine.
But the other side of the argument? The players who decide to stay at Penn State? It's their life -- not yours. Choosing Penn State isn't choosing Sandusky. It's not choosing the football facility where horrible things happened to kids. It's not choosing Paterno.
It's choosing the only college experience those guys have known. It's their campus, their friends, their life. And it's their beating, too. Penn State football is going down, and there's nothing anyone at the school can do to stop it. The scholarship numbers are too daunting, the recruiting pitch too unpleasant. At first the Nittany Lions will suffer from a drop-off in depth, but soon they will suffer from a drop-off in talent. Less talent and less depth? That's a bad football program, which is where Penn State is going.
Players will surely leave, maybe even some of the 25 or so who famously pledged this week to stay. But players will stay, too, many of them despite having better options available.
What kind of young man would stay at Penn State, after all that has happened?
An impressive young man.