Anthony Lubrano, Penn State ’82, watched in horror. The board members looked expressionless, disengaged.
“Like so many Penn Staters, I was angry,” he said, “and I didn’t know what to do next.”
Lubrano had long been a donor to Penn State’s athletic department, and, indeed, the baseball park in the shadow of Beaver Stadium is named for him. But he had never been involved in university governance. He began conversations with Franco Harris, the former Penn State running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer. By January, the pair decided Lubrano should run for one of the nine seats on the board of trustees elected by alumni.
“I ran because of the events of Nov. 9,” he said.
Lubrano produced a campaign Web site and bought television spots in two central Pennsylvania markets, an unprecedented move. And in a video, he clearly outlined his pro-Paterno stance. Even after the coach died in January, Lubrano vowed to use his tenure on the board to clear his name.
“First, this was not a Penn State scandal,” Lubrano said in the video. “Second, this was not a Penn State football scandal. And third, this was certainly not a Joe Paterno scandal. To imply or suggest that Joe Paterno would jeopardize the well-being of a child to protect a football program tells us,” and here, he spaced out his words, “You. Did. Not. Know. This. Man.”
Lubrano, with Harris’s endorsement and a letter of recommendation from Paterno’s widow, won a seat on the board. Since, he has publicly and vocally railed against what he sees as injustices in and inaccuracies surrounding the entire affair. Perhaps most contentious is the board-sanctioned report by former FBI director Louis B. Freeh, which asserted that the school’s leadership, including Paterno, deferred to a “culture of reverence for the football program” and repeatedly “concealed Sandusky’s activities” from authorities.
“His conclusions were hellacious,” Lubrano said this week. He called Freeh’s investigation “a witch hunt.” He sat for an interview — as did Harris and others — for an online documentary called “The Framing of Joe Paterno.” His blood all but boils when he hears Penn Staters say things like, “We have to move forward.”
“Talk to any psychologist,” Lubrano said. “They all say the same thing: In order to heal, you have to identify what was causing the pain. It’s clear to me: The pain was caused by the manner in which this was handled, the way Joe Paterno was treated. Until we address that, we’re never going to heal.”
John Cheslock grew up as the son of a football coach in Akron, where people held deep loyalties to Ohio State’s football program. He is also a Penn State professor, married to a Penn State grad whose parents met as Penn State undergrads. So he has, as he said, “a close personal tie to the institution.”
Some of Cheslock’s work has focused on intercollegiate athletics. This fall, he attended a pair of Nittany Lions games. He cannot go just as a fan, because he is an academic, too, and the two cannot be fully separated.
As a faculty member at the Center for the Study of Higher Education, as he had discussed the Sandusky case and Paterno’s ouster and the sanctions with colleagues, Cheslock decided the university’s larger problems were to be solved by the administration and others. He and his wife held difficult conversations with their two young children about child abuse. But his work at the university, and the work of others, moved forward unfettered.
Yet at the early October homecoming game against Northwestern, with 95,679 fans in the stands, it was hard to ignore the focus — the unrelenting focus — on Penn State through the football program. It is territory with which Cheslock is intimately and academically familiar. Yet the scene was striking.
“Everyone knows the world’s sort of watching,” Cheslock said. “So you wonder: How can you simultaneously sort of have a little bit of that emotional release, but you don’t want the world to be interpreting that as, ‘Oh, this is just business as normal’? It makes it a little complicated. How do you simultaneously express that release, but also honor the victims?”
Such themes have come up in Cheslock’s classes. Last spring, a course he teaches on organizational theory in higher education drew a broad representation of students, some who grew up in and around State College and others from far afield. Discussions arose on how the case fit into Penn State’s athletic department, Penn State’s campus, Penn State’s culture.
“Those conversations, those are moments in the class that will stick with people 20 years later,” Cheslock said. “I think the intensity of dealing with everything that transpired has created that emotional spark that, a lot of times, allows learning to take place.”