Just days before Jerry Sandusky was convicted on multiple counts of child sex abuse, an email was sent to thousands of Penn State alumni with a simple message:
“We are ONE TEAM. Join us.”
Inside was a link to a website for buying tickets to football games.
After seven wrenching months of utter turmoil, shock and sadness, Penn State is looking toward the future and trying to change the subject.
The Nittany Lions open their season Sept. 1 at 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium against Ohio University. For legions of PSU fans, it can’t come fast enough.
“Time is going to have to heal the image and perception,” former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge said. “That’s going to happen sooner for some, later for others. It’s going to take time for people to think about Penn State and Penn State football without thinking about the Jerry Sandusky scandal.”
How much time will be determined in large part by new coach Bill O’Brien and his team.
O’Brien spent three weeks on the road in May trying to drum up support among alumni and fans still stinging from the loss of Joe Paterno, who was fired in November and died in January.
O’Brien made a name for himself as a New England Patriots assistant coach working with quarterback Tom Brady, but his new job will require far more than the ability to dissect defenses.
“He can play a prominent role in the healing of Penn State,” said Lou Holtz, who coached at Notre Dame, Arkansas and South Carolina during a hall of fame career.
In sports, winning and repairing a reputation often go hand in hand.
“A lot of it is getting back to basics and focusing on what you do well,” said Jeremy Robinson-Leon of the Gordon Group, a New York-based public relations firm that handles crisis management. “Focus on games. Focus on winning. That will help them get past this.
“But it’s going to take time. This isn’t over.”
Far from it.
The 68-year-old Sandusky, Paterno’s former longtime defensive coordinator, was convicted Friday of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He will be sentenced in the next three months and likely will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Two former Penn State administrators, including athletic director Tim Curley, are awaiting trial on charges of lying to the grand jury investigating Sandusky and not complying with a state law about reporting suspected child abuse.