Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 11/17/11

The ongoing sexual abuse scandal at Penn State tends to evoke strong reactions. We knew we could count on alum Ty Hildenbrandt, co-host of The Solid Verbal podcast, to offer up some reasonable thoughts on what we've witnessed in State College in the last two weeks.

Ty graciously agreed to answer "Five Burning Questions" about the situation in Happy Valley, as well as how the media has covered the scandal.

1. Watching this play out on TV and the like, we obviously get a mediated view of the situation on the ground at Penn State. You were in State College this weekend for the Penn State-Nebraska game. Is it possible to sum up the general thoughts and feelings among students and alumni regarding this situation and some of the decisions that have been made in the aftermath?

To answer your question, no, it is not possible. This scandal is so deep and complex that even the most intelligent and revered voices within the Penn State community have had difficulty finding words for it. Any way you slice it, this is a tragedy on several fronts, and not something that can be easily cured. Even if Jerry Sandusky ends up being fully exonerated, which doesn't seem likely, Penn State has sustained so much metaphorical smoke damage that it will need to be entirely rebuilt. People are crushed to the point of being catatonic, and their hearts break for the victims.

By and large, I think people agree with the decisions that were made by the Board of Trustees, but they are certainly not celebrating the fact that they had to be made. There is a general consensus that the only way to move forward as an institution was to cut ties with anyone connected to these allegations, despite the pain associated with doing so. Regardless of what people may have concluded after watching the gathering on Beaver Avenue or the rally on Joe Paterno's front lawn, I maintain that Penn Staters are reasonable people who just as repulsed as the rest of America and understand that, in the face of crisis, tough decisions need to be made. Don't just assume that we all support the flipping over of news vans – I want those deadbeats kicked out of school.

To an extent, I also think Penn Staters are misunderstood. I've heard pundits ask how anyone could still support Paterno. Believe me, I understand why they're asking it, but it's certainly not because Penn Staters support the alleged cover-up. I'd compare it to having someone close to you commit a crime – it'd be possible to still love that person and hate their actions at the same exact time. Not everything is black and white. Like it or not, this community will never be convinced to truly hate Joe Paterno.

2. In terms of the media coverage, this has been a feeding frenzy. That should surprise no one. However, do you think certain niches or sub-groups within "the media" have done a better job with their coverage than others.

As far as I'm concerned, Sara Ganim from Harrisburg's Patriot-News has owned this story from start to finish. It hasn't even been close. Michael Weinreb's contributions to Grantland have been outstanding and accurate in depicting the culture of Penn State and State College. Ben Jones from Black Shoe Diaries has also been fabulous in tweeting out details from the front lines. I'd also commend Andy Staples from SI.com for throwing cold water all over CNN's initial coverage of the "riot" on Beaver Avenue when he mentioned that most students on the street were probably just curious to see what was happening. Having been curious and wandering the streets during two previous "riots" in State College, I can say that he was right on the money.

3. We're in an odd place in terms of how to cover this story. There is a clear sports angle, but I'd contend this has evolved into more of a general news or crime story than merely sports. Do you agree, and if so, do you think the sports-centric coverage is having an impact?

Let's put it this way, when I walked into a bagel shop last week and heard two elderly women talking about Penn State football, I knew this story had transcended sports. The bottom line is that if a story involves children, it's going to be a big deal, regardless of whether it starts in the sports realm or not. I don't blame that on any sports-centric coverage – some topics are just more polarizing than others.

4. The media has crossed a line between passing judgment and reporting in this case. Agree or disagree?

I both agree and disagree. People have judged Mike McQueary. For starters, more information is leaking each day, and perhaps McQueary wasn't as negligent as previously thought. Obviously, if he's involved in a cover-up, he should be punished, but I'm willing to let all the facts come to light before drawing that conclusion. Secondly, I have a hard time listening to radio hosts and commentators wax poetic about what they would've done on that day in 2002. Had I been in that situation, I'd like to believe that I would stopped the assault, reported it to authorities immediately, and followed-up until justice was served. But, as Mike Tyson once famously said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." Did you know that 38-percent of Americans cite fear as a reason for not reporting suspected child abuse, and more than one in four just don't know what to do, despite being "overwhelmingly concerned"? This is a reality facing the prevention of child abuse. I'm not saying McQueary's alleged inaction should be condoned, just that statistics say at least some of these pundits might've done the exact same thing. It's dangerous to play the coulda-shoulda-woulda card, even though I do agree with the sentiment.

I disagree, though, with the notion that this was some sort of media "witch hunt" as some Penn Staters have claimed. The university had six months to get out ahead of this story, launch its own investigation and formulate an appropriate response. Clearly, this did not happen. Instead, we saw Graham Spanier offer unconditional support for Tim Curley and Gary Schulz, which was followed by about 48 hours of radio silence? Yeah, Penn State has nobody to blame but itself for this media frenzy. Had it reacted responsibly, this frenzy might not have been as fierce, and Joe Paterno might have been able to dictate the terms of his resignation. Given the way things went down, this was not possible.

And, of course, if university officials didn't (allegedly) attempt to sweep this all under the rug in the first place, this wouldn't have happened at all. Children could've been rescued.

5. I've argued that people are underestimating the longstanding effects this scandal will have on not just the football program, but the university itself - enrollment, donations, etc. In your mind, is this the kind of black mark that could cripple the university?

Universities earn money based on reputation. Penn State's reputation has been badly damaged, and the Board of Trustees took the appropriate action to start the rebuilding process. Will this "cripple" Penn State? Only time will tell. All I'll say is that, in trying to avoid a blemish, Penn State ended up with two black eyes.


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