Unpopular opinion: Pitt fans (and college football fans in general) should stop referencing the Jerry Sandusky scandal to Penn State fans, either in person or online.
I’m not the first person to say this, as Dan Sostek wrote about before Pitt and PSU’s first game of the series in 2016.
Now, I can already see the incoming tweets calling me a “snowflake”, or too sensitive, or saying “what happened to good trash talking”, but trash talking a rival doesn’t involve talking about the rape of children every chance you get.
There has been a huge amount of discussion lately about why Penn State wouldn’t continue the series with Pitt past the 2019 season. I’m not going to get into that too much here as that deserves its own discussion, and it’s been beaten to death. In short, it can be summarized to money, schedule balancing, number of conference games, and familiarity of opponents for Penn State.
However, amongst the comments and discussion, I saw quite a few comments from Penn State fans talking about how horrible of an experience they had in 2016 at Heinz Field. Stories of Pitt fans screaming at them, throwing things, calling them pedophiles and child rapists, etc. Now, are 100% of these stories true? Probably not, but I’m willing to bet more than a few of them are indeed true, and it’s pretty shameful to me as a Pitt fan and alumnus to hear those things. These are the exact same reasons many, prior to the current scheduling nonsense anyway, weren’t too upset to not play West Virginia anymore. Pitt fans had very negative experiences in Morgantown, and didn’t have a desire to return there. Many Pitt fans (and myself included in the past) looked down on West Virginia fans for being terrible in terms of behavior.
Take a look at any twitter thread between Pitt and Penn State. It pretty much always follows a similar path:
1. Penn State fans show arrogance in some way in their view of Pitt
2. Pitt fans chime back
3. Maybe there’s a bit more back and forth before…
4. Somebody from Pitt chimes in with a “Joe Knew” or “Pedo State” or some other reference to the scandal.
You may argue that not mentioning the scandal ignores that it happened, but that’s simply not true. You can have mature conversations about the scandal, its cause and effects, and who was to blame in a respectful way, and have both sides learn something from the discussion. That type of discussion, however, will never ever start from someone screaming “Joe Knew!!” to random Penn State fans in a parking lot, or calling Penn State fans “child rape enablers” in a twitter trash talk thread. As Dan mentioned, in the stands in Heinz Field is not exactly the best place either. Another bad way to talk about it: taking a Nike ad that had absolutely nothing to do with the scandal and making a joke out of it anyway:
have you seen the new nike add campaign that is sending shockwaves all throughout social media?! pic.twitter.com/gpZ43f3VW2— Barstool Pitt (@StoolPitt) September 4, 2018
Frankly, a post like this is standard for Barstool, but it’s alarming how many people loved it. Also, Congratulations to the Pitt students who managed to tie two horrific tragedies together in a single bed sheet to make jokes at the expense of sexual assault victims.
“Alexa, play Take Me to Church by Hozier” pic.twitter.com/Po2iMUgwNd— Barstool Pitt (@StoolPitt) September 4, 2018
Does this mean there are no Penn State folks who believe Joe Paterno did nothing wrong, or that the university in no way was responsible for the scandal? No, of course not. There are thousands of people that think that way. If those people make themselves known, then yeah, correct the hell out of them, but don’t automatically assume every Penn State fan is a 409er, though, and make yourself look like an ass.
Do I think Penn State fans have a strong sense of arrogance and undeserved superiority about them that makes a significant amount of them insufferable? Yup, but until I hear or see them defend Joe Paterno or say PSU did nothing wrong, I’m not mentioning the Sandusky scandal at all to them. Mentioning Sandusky, Paterno, or child molestation as sports trash talk ammunition shows you’re not someone who cares about protected children. It just means you just want to feel morally superior.
There are a litany of other things to trash talk Penn State for that don’t involve the Sandusky scandal, so it’s frustrating to see so many Pitt fans slam the easy button in that regard. As I realize I graduated from Pitt a full four years ago at this point, I also remember that back then I wasn’t quite in tune (or woke as they say) to these types of situations where it might be a better idea to keep my mouth shut than say something so blatantly disrespectful. (Full disclosure: I’ve retweeted and made Sandusky related jokes in the past, especially when I was still in school.) Like everyone, my feelings have changed over time, and I don’t think comments involving the scandal have any place in the rivalry.
I did not grow up a Pitt fan. I did not even like watching sports until I got to Pitt. My first experience with a rivalry was West Virginia and the Backyard Brawl. My first reaction when the Sandsuky scandal came out was horror at what happened, and anger at the students and fans that defended Joe Paterno’s involvement directly after. That did not make me think of them as a rival though. You know what did? When James Franklin was hired, and he stated his “dominate the state” nonsense. When his and Narduzzi’s staff started taking snipes at each other through Twitter. When Narduzzi said Penn State’s offense was ruining Christian Hackenberg and he was completely right. When Pitt and Penn State were going after the same kids in recruiting, and some Pitt commits flipped to Penn State, and a Penn State commit flipped to Pitt. When Pitt beat Penn State in 2016, and Penn State fans (and Franklin) thought up every excuse possible to explain why they lost, but Pitt fans got to beat their chest they helped keep Penn State out of the playoff. When fans take things coaches say out of context and completely blow them out of proportion. The continued insistence by some Penn State fans that we are not their rival, despite commenting on Pitt any chance they get.
These things are all a part of NORMAL rivalry nonsense. College football is fun because of exactly this type of stuff. Why are we ruining it by callously bringing up sexual assault of children every chance we get? Most of the people responsible are either in or will be in jail or dead. Over time, less and less Penn State fans will revere Joe Paterno. I don’t believe they’ll ever think Penn State isn’t God’s greatest gift to mankind, but I can handle that. I’d much rather argue athletic achievement, academic prestige and campus location than make child molestation jokes.
I can’t tell you what to do as you’re all adults who can make their own decisions. However, I do hope that when Pitt fans welcome Penn State back to Heinz on Saturday that they make it an extremely tough environment, but don’t resort to the lowest levels of discourse to do so. Think twice about wearing the “Joe Knew” shirt, or shouting “Ped State!” at Penn State fans passing by. You don’t need to make light of child molestation to remind them Pitt is better.