National Columnist

Be mad at Paterno, Sandusky, sure, but don't hate current Penn State players

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QB Matt McGloin and the rest of the Nittany Lions have nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal. (AP)  
QB Matt McGloin and the rest of the Nittany Lions have nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal. (AP)  

Jerry Sandusky is a monster who will die in prison, as it should be. He coached at Penn State for decades, using his connections to groom victims, and molested several on campus -- but Jerry Sandusky doesn't coach the 2012 Penn State football team. Try to remember that this fall.

Joe Paterno is a monster who died in disgrace, as it should be. He coached at Penn State for decades, using his power to convince the school to leave Sandusky alone, and allowed Sandusky to roam free for 10 or 15 additional years -- but Joe Paterno doesn't coach the 2012 Penn State football team. Try to remember that, too.

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The Penn State Board of Trustees are self-absorbed spam-bots, looking at this entire episode -- from the molestation to the cover-up to the NCAA penalties -- not as a tragedy but as a corporate complication to be navigated. By vowing to appeal NCAA sanctions that their own school president negotiated and agreed not to appeal, they appear stupid and inhuman. But the Penn State BOT doesn't play for the 2012 Penn State football team.

Same goes for Franco Harris, who defends Paterno every chance he gets, and the eight former Penn State players who plan to appeal the NCAA sanctions. Franco Harris, Michael Robinson and the rest of those guys don't play for Penn State anymore.

Neither does Jay Paterno, Scott Paterno or anyone else in the Paterno family -- people who are understandably hurt by the national reaction to Joe Paterno, but whose tunnel-visioned public response has been incomprehensible.

People like you and me, we don't understand the Paterno family or anything else in this story. We don't understand Franco Harris or the Board of Trustees. We don't understand what Joe Paterno was thinking for the last decade of his life, or what bookstores around Penn State are thinking now as they sell this dreadfully myopic T-shirt. Nor do we understand the evil inside Jerry Sandusky.

But we should all understand this:

The 2012 Penn State football team isn't any of those people. The 2012 Nittany Lions are quarterback Matt McGloin and running back Bill Belton and linebacker Gerald Hodges and a number -- a dwindling number, but still a number -- of players who signed to play for Penn State, not for a pedophile or a pedophile-enabler or a boorish board of trustees.

Your heart can break for the victims and still go out to the players left behind. The guys who transferred out of Penn State, star players like tailback Silas Redd to Southern California, receiver Justin Brown to Oklahoma and kicker Anthony Fera to Texas, they aren't heroes. The guys who stayed behind, guys like McGloin and Belton and Hodges, they aren't villains.

The world isn't such a simple place, so please remember that when the 2012 Penn State football team takes the field. These guys aren't those guys. The coach is new. The statue is gone. The uniforms are different, right down to the blue ribbons that will be worn by every single player. Those ribbons won't help Sandusky's victims, but that's not their intention. The ribbons are Penn State's way of saying, "We're sorry, and we remember."

It's a gesture, which is all the 2012 Penn State football team can offer. For decades this was a football program whose symbolism was, in hindsight, telling. No names on jerseys. Nobody was bigger than the program, and since the program was defined by its coach, that meant nobody was bigger than Joe Paterno. The most recognizable symbol of Penn State football? It was Paterno's nose. Or his glasses. Or his high-water pants. Whatever it was, it was Paterno -- just the way he wanted it. This was his show, he called the shots, and who were you to tell Joe Paterno that child welfare officials should be warned about Jerry Sandusky?

But Paterno is gone. His statue is gone, his uniforms are gone, his body is gone. He's dead and buried, and the 2012 Penn State football team is alive and kicking. And, yes, they're punching. That was an unfortunate statement made by new coach Bill O'Brien, who used the recent Big Ten preseason media event to say, "Penn State has taken a lot of punches over the last six months -- and it's time to punch back."

Wrong thing to say, but you can understand it. O'Brien is emotional, he's loyal, he's defending his program -- and he went too far. He said the wrong thing. He made a mistake, but you know what? If we were to list the mistakes made by Penn State officials throughout this process, O'Brien's comment wouldn't make the top 10,000. It was a small thing that gave people a big excuse to lash out: There goes Penn State again, not getting it. New coach, same old crap. Is it too late to give them the death penalty?

Yeah, as a matter of fact, it is. Penn State football is alive if not well, crippled by creative NCAA sanctions that already have decimated the program and will decimate it further as the scholarship restrictions take their toll. Penn State football is down, and it won't get up for a long, long time.

If that's not enough for you, hey, I get it. At the same time, keep in mind that the bad guys in this story have been identified.

And not one of them plays for the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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