Penn State fans were shocked and dismayed when the NCAA announced the penalties the school would face in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Some reacted outrageously, trying to equate what the NCAA did to what Jerry Sandusky did. Mind you, nobody outside of Sandusky's family and friends is trying to deny what happened; they are merely expressing outrage over the punishment and how it affects people who had absolutely no involvement in the scandal: students, fans, and most importantly, the athletes who wear the Penn State uniform.
Some do deny Joe Paterno's role in the scandal, defending the coaching legend despite the evidence to the contrary. Some (not all) Penn State fans come off as self-absorbed, in denial, and tone deaf to what the rest of the country is thinking.
But it got me thinking about what would happen here if a scandal were to be uncovered at the University of Nebraska. What if it was Tom Osborne that was accused of being part of a coverup? What if it was Nebraska football that was being essentially reduced to 1-AA status?
How would Husker fans react?My take is that Husker fans would probably respond much the same way. There's no way to know for sure, and nobody wants to find out. It's dangerous to paint all fans with the same brush. Some would accept the punishment; others would be just as outrageous as the worst Penn State fans. It's in the definition of fan; a derivative of fanatic.
I was asked recently how I would react if this happened to Nebraska. I'd like to think I'd still support the athletic department and anybody not involved, and push for those involved to be fired and prosecuted as warranted. Even Bo Pelini. Even Tom Osborne.
Of course, the devil is in the details. But I'd like to think I'd be reasonable. (I kind of have to; Jon calls me the "voice of reason"!) Of course, what I consider "reasonable", others might consider something else. I base this on my response to the Lawrence Phillips situation in 1995. Most Husker fans older than 30 remember Phillips; the talented running back who's couldn't keep his nose straight. Just hours after gashing Michigan State and Nick Saban for 206 yards and four touchdowns, Phillips assaulted his ex-girlfriend. Osborne immediately suspended Phillips, and reinstated him six games later. It's a decision I disagreed with at the time. I felt a six game suspension wasn't enough, and I protested the rest of the season. When Phillips scored against Iowa State, I remained in my seat - silent. No applause; no cheering. Same thing against Kansas and Oklahoma; no applause for Phillips. He shouldn't have been playing.
I understood why Osborne made the decision he did; he had set out requirements for Phillips to meet before he could be reinstated, and Phillips did what he was asked. Others didn't buy it; they just threw Osborne into the "win at all costs" category. Even after the Fiesta Bowl mauling of Florida ("Nebraska scored again"- David Letterman), people still clung to that tired, completely debunked, theory that Osborne had to play Phillips to win a trophy. So while I second-guessed Osborne's conclusion, I never second-guessed his motive. Others did. Take Bernard Goldberg of CBS, who decided to pull a stunt at a weekly press conference by asking a loaded question about the Phillips situation. Goldberg's interview infuriated the entire state, which retaliated by chanting "CBS Sucks" during the Fiesta Bowl postgame show. Ironically, Goldberg later left CBS for another network, where he regularly appears to protest media bias. And I shared my fellow Husker fans' outrage, and to this day, whenever Goldberg appears, all I can say is "hypocrite."
So could I ever doubt Osborne's motives, were he ever to be accused of something as bad as what Joe Paterno is accused of? I'd like to believe I would look at the situation and react appropriately. But until we're actually in that position, we really don't know.
And that's why Penn State supporters and athletes deserve a little compassion and understanding. They are being held responsible for the sins of others. They are reacting as we probably would in this situation.