The Penn State football team held its 10th annual Lift For Life Challenge on campus Friday, and the nation's largest student/athlete philanthropy was expected to generate more than $100,000 for the fight against kidney cancer. The Nittany Lions have raised more than $1 million for the cause over the past decade.
But even during this overwhelmingly positive event, the Penn State players were braced for the inevitable questions about the controversy surrounding the program since last November. Thursday's release of the Freeh Report, which lambasted former Lion coach Joe Paterno and other school officials for their handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, brought another new wave of vitriol toward PSU football.
For the Nittany Lions themselves -- none of whom played any role in the scandal -- the timing of the big charity event was actually a good thing.
Anything positive right now is gonna make us feel better and Penn State feel better, defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. We can't concentrate on the bad things that have happened. We've just got to keep pushing forward as a football team.
Thousands of fans were on hand to see the Penn State players compete in a series of strongman style contests. They included flipping a giant tire, pushing full-sized vans and tug of war competitions.
Fullback Michael Zordich, one of the more vocal players during the high-energy challenges, said he really did not view the event as a break from anything.
It's kind of ironic, because at the end of the day, it's what we've been doing the whole time, he explained. We've been here. We've been working hard. We've been moving forward as a team for the students, fans and university.
Penn State does many, many positive things in the community, linebacker Michael Mauti added. (The scandal) is kind of overshadowing it, being as big a deal as it is. But all we can worry about is what we've been doing here. Lift For Life has always been a great event, and we've been doing it for more than a decade now. We've been raising a lot of money for the fight against kidney cancer.
Mauti said he has not bothered to watch TV the past few days because he wanted to concentrate on Lift For Life and getting better for the upcoming season. Many of his teammates felt the same way.
But offensive lineman Adam Gress could not help but watch some of the media reactions to the Freeh Report.
It's a shame to see our university on TV like that, Gress said. But we try to ignore that and come to events like this -- do something good for the community and show everyone what we're doing and what this team is all about.
Added linebacker Gerald Hodges: We're gonna come out here and try to raise as much money as we can every year. And we'll let everybody who has their opinions keep their opinions.