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Ohio State's Mike Weber (25) fumbles the ball as Penn State's Evan Schwan (94) and Manny Bowen (43) look for it during the second half of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. Ohio State recovered the ball. Penn State won 24-21. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

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Wiedmer: Has Penn State learned from its mistakes?

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Mark Wiedmer

James Franklin is the Penn State football coach, which means he is paid to win football games.

If he influences young adult males for the good during their four or five years under his watch, if they graduate with meaningful degrees and become solid citizens, all the better.

But as college administrations prove time and time again, developing character, ethics and morality in student-athletes is almost always a distant second or seventh to producing athletic victories.

So when an emotional Franklin met with the media following the Nittany Lions' shocking 24-21 home victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night, his reference to the past child molestation sins of former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky and the disgusting university-wide coverup that accompanied those crimes probably focused on the fans' and athletic department's struggles rather than those children whose innocence, security and trust in authority figures was forever stolen from them by the monster Sandusky.

That doesn't mean Franklin was altogether wrong to say after Saturday's win that it had the ability to unite the State College community, that it was "a big step in the right direction in terms of healing."

Penn State needs to heal. Whatever you think of late former coaching legend Joe Paterno, his longtime aide Sandusky or more than one university administration that looked the other way as accusations and rumors regarding the assistant's abhorrent behavior began to mount, the fans, players and current coaches knew nothing of those atrocities.

Yet they've all watched the football program buried under scholarship limitations, postseason bans and mountains of media criticism the past four years, their once-proud program becoming more a pariah than a punchline.

Was it fair?

If you're speaking about the decades-long inaction by both Paterno and those few souls in administration who knew the truth regarding Sandusky, yes it was fair. It remains fair. More than fair. They looked the other way as children suffered, an unforgivable and unpardonable sin. Until there's irrefutable proof Sandusky's victims' psyches have healed, all rulings and actions against the Paterno legacy and former Penn State administrators remain patently fair.

But what about the fans, coaches and players who never knew or suspected anything? Did they deserve to have the program they once believed stood for all that was right and just and honorable in major college athletics — as did so many of the rest of us — torn asunder for the despicable actions of a few?

That's a tougher question. Most penalties aimed at a specific college sports team are an attempt to penalize and take away the advantages they gained by not playing by the rules. Perhaps they altered an athlete's academic records or offered money, cars or, gulp, prostitutes (take a bow, Louisville) to sway a top recruit to pick that school over another.

There's not much proof anyone at Penn State ever did any of that during Paterno's 45 years as head coach.

Then again, how much did the coverup protect the program from the recruiting fallout it might have suffered had it become public knowledge as far back as the 1970s that Sandusky was a child molester?

Would Paterno have been able to keep the program rolling at a pace that would eventually deliver him 409 wins? Or would it have at least temporarily brought Penn State football to its knees, done in by embarrassment, shame and understandable parental concern over whether or not this was a positive environment for their sons?

Those questions have no answers, of course. What's done is done. What was covered up was covered up, almost certainly allowing dozens of young boys to be scarred forever because Paterno and others remained silent.

But there was no silence in Happy Valley on Saturday night. It was almost just like the old days, when Penn State ran on the field in its classic generic uniforms, played the game the old-fashioned way and won another one for its bespectacled, white-socked, black shoed, necktie-wearing coach.

"I don't even know that you can explain it, everything this program has been through the last five years," the former Vanderbilt coach Franklin told ESPN.com afterward. "No one understands what we're still going through."

It would be nice to hear that all 107,000 fans cheering their Nittany Lions finally understand and are sympathetic to what Sandusky's victims are probably still going through. But as long as the Penn State community is determined to be more vigilant regarding such deviant behavior in the future, a Nittany Lions win healing any sort of wound is a step in the right direction.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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