Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti was instrumental in helping keep most… (Gene J. Puskar/ )
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The low sun hid behind a lower ceiling of gray clouds late Tuesday afternoon here as Michael Mauti — helmet on his head, pads over his shoulders and thighs — watched a trainer tape his hands, preparing for another practice in a career of practices. Nearly five years ago, he came here the son of one former Penn State player and the brother of another. He has since performed the duties and suffered the indignities of a linebacker. He has endured surgeries on both knees. And he is hardened.
The taped hands, the padded practices, the low clouds and the cold wind — that’s what he signed up for. Everything else? No. A thousand times, no.
“I came in here as a boy and I’m leaving here as a man,” Mauti said earlier this week, hat on backward as he sat on a couch at the Lasch Football Building. “This is as real as it gets as far as adversity goes in your life, and I think this is a great test. It was a great test.”
What this football season means to Penn State as a whole is impossible to say, because it is still ongoing, with Saturday’s game against Indiana and one other remaining. This is a campus with 39,192 undergraduate students, 5,487 graduate students, 14,101 full- and part-time staff members and 560,658 living alumni. How this football season — the first without its late, legendary coach, the first after the revelation of heinous crimes of a former assistant, and the first played under severe sanctions placed on the program in the aftermath — fits into the greater community is a matter of personal opinions that may differ among the 619,438 characters listed above.
But there is no denying the season has had an impact across the campus, across a wide swath of people who consider themselves “Penn Staters.” What each takes out of it has been, and is, up to the individual.
“None of us signed up for this,” Mauti said.
On the morning of Nov. 6, 2011, Laura March and Stuart Shapiro sat on the striped couch in their apartment about five blocks from campus, and they started to digest the Sunday newspapers. Two days earlier, Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, had been charged with 40 counts of sex crimes against boys.
March, a State College native who went to Penn State as an undergrad and was back for graduate work, knew what Sandusky, what Paterno, what the football program meant to the school, the town, the state. Shapiro, pursuing his MBA, was only then getting indoctrinated in the culture of Penn State.
“We were just getting more and more anxious about what happened,” Shapiro said.
“And I remember, because these people were our leaders, feeling so disappointed,” March said, “and like somebody needed to do something.”
March, an arts student, thought about the pink ribbons worn by NFL teams to promote awareness of breast cancer research. She wondered what color symbolized child-abuse prevention. A Google search revealed the answer: blue, eerily similar to Penn State’s blue. The couple was off.
“We’re pretty over-ambitious, no matter what,” Shapiro said.
March began posting ideas to raise awareness to her Facebook page. Monday morning, she bought a spool of blue ribbon to bring to a friend’s house that night. She wanted to make ribbons for distribution across campus. “I didn’t want to pressure them,” she said. But then she checked her Facebook page again. Her thoughts had taken hold. She contacted the athletic department, which had been scheduled to hold a “White Out” for that week’s game against Nebraska in which the entire crowd would be encouraged to wear white.
By midweek, department officials reached back out to her. The “White Out” would be off. March, Shapiro and their friends and supporters were welcome to take over and stage a “Blue Out.”
Tuesday night, March dashed together a logo. By Friday, they distributed thousands of hand-tied ribbons at a candlelight vigil to honor the victims. And by Saturday, when Beaver Stadium filled with blue, they had raised nearly $50,000.
This football season, with more time to breathe and prepare, they held a second Blue Out. They raised nearly $80,000.
March and Shapiro are both 27. They plan to graduate and leave State College in the spring. But they have partnered with a student group that will carry on the Blue Out going forward. They have changed forever.
“It epitomizes what somebody who believes in social justice, believes in critical engagement and civic engagement, can do,” March said.
On the night of Nov. 9, 2011, university trustee John Surma stood with the board at his back and the press to his front. He said the board had removed president Graham Spanier from his post. Then, he made the announcement that took the breath out of the community: “Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.”