What a mess. I don’t know exactly what to believe or who to believe. There’s a whole lot of he said-he said going on, and things get murky when that’s the case.
But what’s not murky is this: The news that came out this morning from ESPN is a bad look for James Franklin and the Penn State football program.
(Below is a terrific discussion I had with Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune about all of this on my radio show, Sports Central, on WRTA in Altoona.)
And with a game to be played tomorrow afternoon, this is yet another giant distraction in a season that has essentially been one big distraction for the Nittany Lions.
What do you think Penn State’s players are doing and thinking about today? As they see the program at the top of ESPN.com for the wrong reasons and as their phones blow up from people wanting information, do you think it’s remotely possible that all those guys are fully focused on football?
How could they be?
How could Franklin possibly be fully focused on football today, when his name is getting dragged through the mud?
Could it be true that Franklin told Isaiah Humphries not to talk to the police about his fight with Micah Parsons?
Could this callous, ridiculous statement, attributed to Franklin by Humphries, be true?: “You should have just gotten your ass beat and not pulled a knife.”
Could it be true that former PSU player Damion Barber walked around the locker room naked and tormented other players by mimicking sexual acts?
Could it be true that Parsons and some other veteran teammates made life so hard on a teammate that the young man contemplated suicide?
Jeez, who knows.
For his part, Parsons tweeted this Friday afternoon:
The Court system Is horrible!
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) November 20, 2020
Maybe all of this stuff is true.
Maybe some or a lot of it was made up by a disgruntled former player.
I don’t know the answers.
You don’t know the answers.
And don’t make the same mistake that sports fans often make — and which Penn State fans certainly have made in the past — of sticking by your team simply because it’s your team, to the point where you’ll insist a bad allegation against your team or your coach or your players could never be true because they would never do that sort of thing.
Some of the details pointed out in ESPN’s story have been told before, particularly in coverage of the Humphries case by PennLive.com.
But some of the details that emerged from court documents cited by ESPN depict disturbingly graphic scenes and images that should not be acceptable.
Penn State officials are trying to play this off as boys being boys in a locker room. No doubt, a lot of immature young men do act dumb and do dumb things when they’re around one another.
But it’s not enough to just say boys will be boys whenever there are allegations of those young men mimicking sexual acts and making others around them feel uncomfortable.
That’s when men need to be men by stepping in and putting an end to that crap.
How will all of this end up with regards to legal proceedings? Who knows?
It seems like Humphries faces a lot of challenges in proving all of his allegations. But that’s always how it is when someone is victimized — they get victimized all over again by having to prove themselves, sometimes when other people around them are calling them liars and trashing their character.
Regardless of how things play out legally, this is all stuff that brings Franklin’s leadership and integrity into question. And make no mistake, that is bad for him and Penn State.
Whether Franklin did indeed tell Humphries not to talk to the police, we’ll probably never know.
But the accusation is out there, and many people will take it at face value and believe it. They see a football coach trying to protect his star player, and that makes sense to them because it has happened so many times before in college sports and will continue to happen a lot going forward.
The locker room shenanigans pointed out in ESPN’s article paint a picture of a program run amok, with so little self awareness that a player allegedly would dare mention Jerry Sandusky’s name in a threatening way less than a decade after the worst scandal in college sports history rocked Penn State.
How dumb does any young man have to be to do that, and in the same locker room no less.
That’s if it really did happen.
But again, we will never know for sure if it happened, and so the allegations will serve as facts for a lot of people when they think about Penn State football.
We don’t need proof in this country to ridicule, make fun of and hold a grudge against anyone or any group. Just getting accused of something is enough to change public opinion forever.
Franklin’s reputation will take a hit from all of this.
Penn State’s reputation will take a hit from all of this. Another one.
The school is just one month removed from basketball coach Patrick Chambers resigning under pressure after allegations of inappropriate words and actions toward players.
If you don’t think football coaches at other schools will be pointing out all this mess to recruits that are considering Penn State, then you don’t understand how negative recruiting works and how sordid it all can get.
Oh, by the way, the Lions have to play a football game tomorrow.
You think they’ll be focused and ready to play?