A Letter to JoePa

Dear JoePa,

You will not remember me. I may have run up to you a few times in the late '80s, giggling nervously as you quickly shook my hand and then continued loping along through the winding paths of the PSU campus. Your son Jay and I sat on my messy dorm room bed one day, along with a few of my friends, as we all listened to "Gimme Shelter" and waxed poetic about how maybe, just maybe, Mick was singing: "Jay Paterno, you're just a shot away... you're just a shot away." But you won't remember me.

I was one of your biggest fans. Well, me and thousands of others. Countless, nameless others who shouted out your name in the thick of a Beaver Stadium crowd, over and over and over. "Joe-Pa!" "Ter-no!" "Joe-Pa!" "Ter-no!" We were a collective force of nature, all of us Nittany Lions huddled together on the stands in the crisp, Happy Valley Saturday afternoons, screaming out "We don't know the goddamn words" to the tune of our school song, when inside our hearts were bursting with our love for Penn State. And for you.

You don't know this, but in the years following my time at college, you've become more and more of a hero to me. The myriad things you have done for the university, football, academics, children... You have given back to the community and to the school who has loved you faithfully, and have been an inspiration the likes of which are almost unheard of in the world of college sports. Hell, you've transcended college sports, in my mind, and have become like a family member to so many, including myself. But you don't remember me.

I've watched nearly every single PSU football game since I received my early acceptance letter in November of 1986. For a quarter of a century - more than half of my life - I've spent sporting blue-and-white and cheering for the Lions. Cheering for us. Cheering for you...

It's so hard to say goodbye to my lifetime's hero. It is with the heaviest of hearts that I let go and move on. I am so terribly saddened by the recent turn of events and, ultimately, so disappointed. I will always stay true to my incredible alma mater, and will be cheering loud and strong for Blue & White until the day I die. But you, JoePa, will no longer be a part of that, and it's breaking my heart just a little.

Some people, most of whom are not alumni, have asked me why on earth I can in any way feel even one iota of sadness, and not simply pure, unadulterated anger. While I don't expect others to understand, I guess my simple answer is that goodbyes are never easy. It's because the world I once lived in is no longer the same. I also know there are diehard supporters out there who will back you up, no matter what, and who would disagree vehemently with my signing off without hard evidence. In what I've read, and this is just me, right or wrong, I have the evidence I need to take the stance I'm taking.

I no longer know if it's good to have heroes. Aside from a few extraordinary human beings I know well, like my parents, is it even safe to idolize? Will I ultimately be let down? What do I teach my children about holding someone in such high regard? I want Lila and AJ to have real-life heroes - people whose generosity and strength and compassion they will strive to emulate, I really do. But this recent turn of events has given me pause on the hero worship bit.

You don't remember me, and that is absolutely fine. I will be AOK, as I'm simply a disillusioned, post-hero-worshipper. Not a big deal. After all, I wasn't horrifically abused by a man who I trusted, nor was I abused by the system that was supposed to protect me. I wasn't the young boy who needed protection in that gym shower and who, instead, got silence. I am not the young boy who deserved a full investigation years before, which would have saved me from the abuse I suffered years later. Who I do want you to remember are the children whose lives have been ruined by Mr. Sandusky, an animal (at best) with a human name. I want you to remember them, and the innocence that has long since been venomously stolen from their young, defenseless arms. They are the only ones who should be remembered, here.

I have been trying to think if there can be any possible good to come out of all of this... I'm looking into ways to donate time/money to organizations for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. It's a drop in the bucket of good compared to the unspeakable acts that befell those poor boys. But I guess it's something...

You have just announced your retirement, to take effect at the end of the season. In your time left as Coach, I am in the hopes that information comes out proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you did more than simply inform one superior, without ever following up. Maybe you did so much more... None of it synchs in any way with the information we have now, but it's possible. A part of my mind tells me to presume innocence, but my heart is very strongly pulling me in a different direction.

My hand is still warm from shaking yours that autumn day, half a lifetime ago. I see you sauntering across campus and away from me... your grand shadow quickly fading in the late Happy Valley sunlight. Farewell to the hero I once knew.

Jennifer (Church) Biasi
Class of '91


rapper said…
Jen - I wish I would have written this. Except maybe for the part about JayPa in your bedroom.

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