Assistant Sports Editor
DS: The whole Penn State situation – how is that going to effect the university?
Wann: “It could affect it in a lot of ways. I think certainly campus-wide when something like that is found to be related to your team. Certainly for Penn State, as far as the football team goes, so goes that campus’ moral.
“It’s not like at some schools like Ohio State where when the football team struggles maybe their basketball team is doing well or something but for a lot of Penn State the psyche is truly wrapped up in the team and the psyche of the team is wrapped up in Paterno – I mean he’s a legend up there and you never know what accusations are going to come out what they’ll find to be true but I know at Penn State, because so much of their identity is wrapped up in that football team when something so closely related to the football team like this happens it’s going to impact people and it’s going to put a damper on them you’re going to find a lot of people that are going to find ways to justify or excuse things.
“I know that when Ben Johnson got nailed for steroids back 20 years ago in the Olympics the whole world thought ‘this guy is terrible’ except for Canadians who came up with every excuse in the book to justify what happened. One person even wrote an article saying ‘maybe somebody from the other team actually put steroids in his water bottle and got him busted. You look at the Barry Bonds thing – everybody on the planet believed that Barry Bonds did steroids; except fans of the San Francisco Giants.
“So, the whole world might line up and say ‘oh, look at Penn State football, it’s awful.’ but the one clear way that Penn State fans can cope, can deal with this, is to kind of justify it or excuse it. And they’re going to do that to protect this important identity because so much of being a Penn State supporter, Penn State student, Penn State faculty is wrapped up in that football team. And they’ve stayed above the fray for a long time. Say what you want about Joe Paterno but they don’t go on probation, they don’t get scholarships taken away from them, they run a pretty clean program. Well, we’ll see now.”
DS: Do you think this will hurt Penn State’s recruiting process?
Wann: “Oh, I don’t see how it cannot. I mean you never know looking forward how these things will impact something but if you’re a high school junior and Penn State is on your list, you know if this was in 2009 and you’re a high school junior and Penn State’s on your list and you’re telling people ‘man, I’m getting recruited by Penn State’ people are saying ‘crap, that’s cool!’ Nobody today is saying ‘Hey, I’m getting recruited by Penn State!’ Because their friends are going to give them a hard time.
“I don’t see how it cannot impact (their recruiting process). Now will it substantially impact? I dont know, but no one today is running around their high school gym bragging about how Penn State called them on the phone last night and wants them to go play football there. I don’t think there would be very many parents who are saying ‘Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to sending my kid to Penn State. Not that they necessarily think something bad is going to happen there.
“But people don’t like to be associated with groups that have been shown to be negative in some way. Now if you are already associated with that group, again you are going to try and cope with that fact but for people that are just now being recruited where are you going to go? Are you going to go to the school where there is no baggage attached or will you go to the school where there is baggage?
“Look at Tennessee basketball, look at Tennessee football. What’s Tennessee football, 0-5? Tennessee basketball won’t finish .500 in the SEC. These have been pretty good programs in the last decade so you would think if the same model applies to Penn State that eventually it’s going to hurt recruiting and eventually it’s going to hurt performance.”
DS: How does Penn State recover from this?
Wann: “This is kind of the jerk way of responding but what Penn State really needs is a time machine so they can go back about 10 years and start making the right choices. What they need to do is really what they needed to do. You know, you look at this whole series of bad choices that were made, not all of them were illegal.
“I don’t think anyone has found that Paterno has done anything illegal, perhaps morally questionable, but you look back and you think, ‘gosh, you could have done this, you could have done that.’ So I think that’s one obvious statement. They should have done things different to begin with but they should own up to that fact. They should say ‘look we made a mistake.’
“One thing sports fans are is they are forgiving of people who admit transgressions. Look at Clemens versus Petitte in the steroid deal. Pettite: ‘Look I did it to try and gain an advantage, to recover quickly from injuries’ and people thought ‘he shouldnt of done that. Yeah, OK,’ and then they drop it! Clemens: ‘I didn’t do that.’ Palmero, Sosa, McGwire. McGwire, if he just says ‘I did this, it was wrong’ no one would even talk about McGwire and steroids anymore. Or at least not in the same way that they do now.
“So, what Penn State needs to do is say, ‘Look, here are the mistakes we made as a school, here are the mistakes the coaches made, here are the mistakes in the system with Penn State football running the show so to speak and here’s how we’re going to take steps so that this doesn’t happen again in the future. That’s what they need to do to own up to the mistakes of the past. There will be a lot of people at their next home game. That’s the beauty of sports; fans are forgiving. It’s not like every parent who is outraged by this is going to say ‘how dare you?’
“What was it that Michael Vick did that put him in jail for all those years? Does anybody even talk about that anymore? No, the only thing people talk about now is how he is the quarterback of this year’s supposed dream team. Right? He did what he was supposed to do; he served his time and we move on. I think if Penn State looks at those models they will get past this quick.
DS: How do you think this will affect Joe Paterno’s legacy?”
Wann: “You know, I dont know but I think he will be forever linked to this. How strong will that link be? I’m not entirely sure. These are the types of things that only time will tell but I do think when he passes on and people are writing the story of Joe Paterno, I think this gets in.
“How much of this gets in? How much of the story get reported? I don’t know. It’s probably a function of how Penn State responds. Do they make excuses for their behavior or do they say ‘look, we blew this; it was our bad we made mistakes. If they say that, then I think people will be forgiving.”