York-area Penn Staters' editorial on Paterno goes viral

Sean Philip Cotter

Garrett Ross and Lauren Davis kind of figured it would get a reaction.

They were right.

The pair of Penn State students from York County were the minds behind a Daily Collegian editorial published Friday saying that their university "needs a reality check" when it comes to plans to honor former head football coach Joe Paterno.

Last Thursday evening, Ross, a former York Dispatch freelancer who is the editor in chief of the college newspaper, noticed a university email mentioning how an upcoming Penn State football game would commemorate Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State football coach. That struck a chord, so he sent a message to Davis, who'd left the paper's offices for the evening.

"'Hey, we should really sit down and talk about this,'" Davis recalls Ross saying to her.

Garrett Ross

Davis, a Dallastown grad who is the paper's opinion editor, already had the next day's editorial written, but they scrapped that plan, and she wrote a new editorial.

'Move on': Titled "Remaining rutted in the past does nothing for the future," the piece ran online and in print the next day.

"Penn State needs a reality check," Davis wrote in the editorial. "This is not 2011. We need to move on."

The editorial notes that the planned commemoration on Saturday, Sept. 17, when Penn State plays Temple, is also the "stripe-out" game, when the school will celebrate the THON fundraiser; it's also Community Heroes Day and Faculty & Staff Day, according to the paper.

Lauren Davis

And that's the main issue Davis' editorial takes on: She said it's weird timing to honor Paterno — who has been accused of covering up the fact that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was molesting children — on the same day the college was celebrating current students, faculty and staff. Davis wrote that the students are "more than ready" to move on, and this "seems an odd way of going about it."

Student voices: Ross and Davis on Wednesday told The York Dispatch the the main point wasn't to slight anyone's opinions — it was to make sure that current students' voices are included in the discussion about Sandusky and Paterno, and how their legacies interplay with the university's past, present and future.

"What gets overlooked a lot of times is the opinion of the students currently at Penn State," Ross said.

He said it's usually alumni dominating the conversation, and that's fine — but both of them believed it was the paper's responsibility to try to insert another voice into the discussion.

"We just kind of felt like it was time for us as a news organization to address this," Ross said.

They knew that it was an opinion that likely would elicit some sharp reactions from all sides.

"As we were leaving on Thursday, I turned to Lauren and said, 'We’re probably gonna get some comments on this one,'" Ross said.

They did. The article has thousands of shares on Facebook, with many comments on both the story page and Facebook postings of it.

"The initial responses are more negative-based," Davis said. But, she continued, a fair amount of positive ones began to come in as a couple of days passed.

Both students said this was the most response anything from the paper has gotten in recent memory.

"It's kind of phenomenal," said Davis, who said they'd tried to read "pretty much every response."

Both said they stick by what Davis wrote.

Both  said they hope to continue their journalism careers after college.

Ross, a senior at Penn State, grew up in Maryland but now lives in Springettsbury Township; he wrote a weekly Penn State football column for The York Dispatch during fall 2014. Davis, from the Leader Heights area, is a junior at the university.

A Penn State spokeswoman said the university is declining comment, according to The Associated Press.

Background: Paterno coached at Penn State for 46 seasons, becoming college football's winningest coach. But he was fired by the school's board of trustees shortly after Sandusky, who was his former defensive coordinator, was arrested in November 2011 for child sexual abuse.

Paterno's firing came amid questions over whether he should have alerted police after being told in 2002 that a graduate assistant had seen Sandusky in the Penn State showers with a young boy. Paterno died in January 2012 of lung cancer.

In May, unsealed court documents said an alleged Sandusky victim said he complained to Paterno about Sandusky in 1976 and was rebuffed. The university's president, Eric Barron, has said the allegation was not substantiated in court or tested by any other process. Paterno was never charged.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Contact Sean Cotter  atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD