I thought it was some sort of sick joke when a Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother told me that their fraternity house advisor was the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer and university’s Assistant Athletic Director. “No, really, he lives in the house. He’s going through a divorce and the alumni decided to allow him to live here.” Still, after being filled in on the situation, I thought this must be some sort of part-time living arrangement so he can have a brisk walk to work at the Lasch building every weekday morning.
That fraternity house is Beta Theta Pi, an organization now infamous for essentially killing a pledge on his very first night within the organization. But before that haunting day in February of 2017, I was filled in on how the Penn State football culture was taking over the university’s Beta Theta Pi chapter.
The first time I walked through the doors of Beta, it was a dry fraternity, meaning no alcohol was allowed on the premises. These rules and regulations were enforced after Don Abbey, a star Penn State football player and Beta Theta Pi alumnus, donated millions of dollars to Beta to establish the most expensive fraternity house renovation in United States history. The dining room chairs were replicas from the White House, the kitchens had gold paint on the ceilings, and there was a gigantic walk-in freezer next to the bar, even though this would later become a dry house. If you lived in a fraternity house with rules in place that no alcohol be allowed, but you had a specialized freezer for alcohol, would you store ice pops in there?
Don Abbey never expected to have to put in such a strict alcohol ban on his precious fraternity. While the fraternity was undergoing renovations, active members of the organization walked around with baseball bats and smashed holes in the walls. They also threw condoms out of their second-story windows, hid hot sauce bottles behind the curtains, and had a racial slurs party on the porch one night, yelling n***** to an African American student as he walked past the house. All of this led Mr. Abbey to believe that he spent far too many pennies on this renovation, and the active members were forced to move out of the house. Still, legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno holds a press conference with his wife soon after the renovations are completed, stating that he is proud of Don’s accomplishments and what he’s doing for the university.
Not long after the press conference, Abbey installed a state-of-the-art video surveillance system all around the house so that if anyone again smashed a hole in the wall or held a racial slur party, he would swiftly take action. He still did not trust college fraternity students to live in the house, and so the house was used as a Schreyer Honors College eating club for the best of the best gentlemen that Penn State had to offer, including Penn State President Graham Spanier, who had unlimited access to the house during this time period and just got off the hook in April of 2019 for serving prison time for his role in the Jerry Sandusky pedophile case. How did he get his get out of jail free card? Look no further than Season 1, Episode 15 of “The Blacklist” which is based after “missing” Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar who vanished after creating memos of Sandusky’s crimes.
Don Abbey is powerful. Don Abbey is a billionaire. Don Abbey is a member of the Penn State Beta Theta Pi Board of Directors, until September of 2016 when he was kicked out, and the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer moved in. You see, ever since Abbey kicked those spoiled brats out of the house in 2009, he had an inclination that something very wrong could one day occur in this house, hence the rationale for installing the security cameras. He was a staunch advocate of no alcohol on the premises ever ever ever. If there were a Don Abbey on every fraternity chapter house Board of Directors in America, we would have no hazing deaths, ever ever ever. But sadly, for Penn State’s reputation and the young men who would be seeking admission into Beta Theta Pi in February of 2017, the majority on the Board of Directors were not in agreement with Abbey. In fact, they intended to go right behind his back.
“No, really, he lives in the house. He’s going through a divorce and the alumni decided to allow him to live here. And although we’re a dry house, none of that matters anymore. Before he moved in, we actually followed the rules. But he’s chill with us having alcohol in the house, and we’re working on him allowing us to have parties too. We’re going to become a party house again.” I didn’t realize at that moment that I was witnessing the start of the downfall of one of America’s most prestigious fraternity chapters. A fraternity that won accolades from Joe Paterno. A fraternity that created billionaires. A fraternity that would soon lose grip of reality so bad that a pledge would lay dying right beneath its eyes.
And so the party house was recreated. But this wasn’t simply students running the show. Every scheduled party had to first be approved by the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer. Every alcohol purchase had to first be approved by the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer. Every hazing event had to first be approved by the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer; How else did you think he could always ensure he was never caught on camera during hazing?
Behind closed doors, the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer often participated in the hazing events at Beta Theta Pi himself. One event was actually completely his idea alone, taken from his days as a Beta brother at Penn State. He convinced the pledge master, advisor of students pledging the fraternity, that it was some sort of mandatory event in order to officially get into the fraternity. And so we played crab soccer.
Fraternity members took hoses from outside and drenched the marble basement floors until Hurricane Sandy had made her way to State College. There were no fears of Don Abbey retaliation. The basement cameras were somehow disconnected, “wires chewed up by rats” or “punched out by some crazy dude at a party.” Fraternity members took balls of crumbled up snowball shaped newspaper, drenched them in the water and threw them in pledge’s faces as soccer balls were kicked across a soaked fraternity house floor.
One day, the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer ordered us to get to the house at 6 AM sharp. He gave us part one of a day’s work of hazing. He handed out a printed poem to all of us and told us that it would be important to memorize it and find a deeper meaning. That was all, nothing too serious and nothing scary. Kind of like a teacher or professor teaching you a lesson. Then came part two of a day’s work of hazing, when the pledge master texted us “white T-shirt and jeans” at 2 AM which meant it was time to run to the fraternity house as fast as possible and stand in a straight line in the basement. We were forced to do push-ups as usual and get drenched in alcohol, all the while rock music is blasting, and fraternity members are screaming through megaphones. Towards the end of this event, this lineup, the pledge master began screaming and asking what the true meaning of Beta was. After hours of being screamed at and having alcohol-drenched all over our bodies, someone finally recited the poem that the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer handed to us earlier in the day, and just like that, we were free to go.
The Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer announced that there was another event that he could help plan, in which we would run through the fraternity house dodging golf balls, but the active fraternity members decided that this would be too cruel and unusual. What wasn’t too cruel and unusual for them was constantly harassing and screaming at us.
One of the last hazing events that the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer had an open involvement in was some sort of ritual where pledges all sit in the basement together, then walk upstairs with our eyes closed and stand in the kitchen with strobe lights pointed straight into our eyes. Many fraternity members were present for this event, including the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer. They would yell whatever kind of foul things they wanted at us, and all we were allowed to do was stand there and take it. They would ask us fraternity trivia, such as who was the first Black member of Beta Theta Pi or who was our favorite member of the fraternity. When they were done screaming at us, they sent us back downstairs.
After about half of us had been screamed at by active fraternity members, the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer came downstairs himself and told us that we were doing everything wrong. We were not supposed to have a favorite fraternity member. We were supposed to look at everyone in the organization as being equal, a perfect egalitarian community, hence the months of being hazed and being forced to binge drink large amounts of alcohol and a college student dying while trying to get into the organization in February of 2017.
In December of 2016, after many lineups and many nights of being forced to chug vodka and after I received a large gash on my forehead from a night within the fraternity house, we were initiated into official members of the organization. There were over twenty of us, and we were just so equal, it was a perfect dream come true.
Before I received proper admission into the organization, I tried to Get Out on multiple occasions. There were increasingly racist antics going on and I wasn’t about it. I never knew there were some black side and some white side of things. I grew up in a diverse suburb outside of Reading, Pennsylvania and most people just did their own thing. But that’s not how Penn State’s Beta was. I made the mistake of thinking that my high school experience was like everyone else’s, and my life would be the same at Penn State. I didn’t realize that some people go to all-white schools, legal if it’s private, and some people just grow up in straight-up racist neighborhoods, and some of these people choose to go to college at Penn State!
I was physically assaulted once by an active member; a couch being thrown on top of me and him punching me repeatedly. I was stuck under an extremely heavy couch, with no way to get myself out, and then another active member started throwing beer cans at my face! It hurt, and when I finally got out from under that couch, I started screaming at my pledge brothers hysterically. They didn’t want to be seen as the person that would help Kordel.
One night I just got straight up tired of all the racism. I made the choice that if changes weren’t soon made, I was going to stop attempting to join this organization for good. I met with the Assistant Vice President and raised with him my concerns about racism within the organization. In particular, I was worried about racism amongst some of the other pledge class members, the other students trying to join the organization, because I would have to spend another four years with them. The Assistant Vice President promised me that the concerns would be addressed, and any racists would be dealt with.
Later that night, my pledge class had a lineup, and the pledge master ran downstairs with a megaphone as the music is blaring and we’re all standing in line in our white T-shirt and jeans. He begins to scream into the megaphone, “Are there any racists in Beta Theta Pi?” He continues, “I don’t want any racists in my fraternity! If there are any racist pledges in Beta right now, then get the fuck out!” He walks up to a pledge doing push-ups and asks through the megaphone, “Are you a racist?” It wasn’t until I got a call from Caitlin Flanagan from The Atlantic that I realized this lineup wasn’t created out of respect for me, it was created to stir up disdain for me and to paint a picture of me as a tattle-tale untrustworthy person.
The lineup would then soon be cut short. The active brother from Scranton who threw me under a couch only a few days earlier grabs the megaphone and screams into it, “Why does any of this matter? Kordel’s not even Black!” After I heard such ludicrous language, I ran out of the fraternity house with the intention of never returning. I went to my dorm, locked the doors, and went to sleep. At around 4 AM two gentlemen from my pledge class began pounding on my door. “Don’t worry about what just happened back there. That dude’s an idiot. He doesn’t represent Beta and none of the rest of us are like that. We want you in our fraternity and we really hope you come back.” It was not what I was expecting, and I was beginning to change my mind about never going back to the organization.
The next day, the pledge master texted me and informed me that the racist would be taken care of. The Assistant Vice President informed me that he would face disciplinary action and would be banned from going to any parties. I decided to stay with the organization because after spending an outrageous amount of time attempting to join it, it became almost all I had left, racism and all.
Shortly after the new member initiation, it became time for the 2016 winter formal. The Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer brought in a bartender for this event which he was entirely present for, and members of all ages were encouraged to drink alcohol. He pulled me aside at one point and said to me, “These guys don’t actually respect you. They don’t understand you. But I can see your potential.”
It wasn’t long after that, two months to be exact, that a pledge would fall down the stairs and die and the house would be shut down forever. Where did the house of cards begin to collapse? When the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer decided to partake in the hazing? When the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer brought a professional bartender to a fraternity house and encouraged underage drinking? When Don Abbey was kicked off the Board of Directors in September of 2016 in favor of the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer’s light stance on underage drinking and partying? Or maybe it was even way back when Jerry Sandusky began to get invited to the club dinners at the Beta house in 2009, which was in itself initiated because young men decided to smash holes in the walls with baseball bats.
After a Beta Theta Pi pledge died in February 2017, the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer held a meeting with fraternity members and some members of national Beta Theta Pi. They instructed us to delete any criminal evidence that could be on our cell phones and could be found by the Centre County Grand Jury. Surely the man who told us that we had to be a perfectly equal organization was advising us in the right direction.
The Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer called me a few days after from a James Franklin number and left a message, stating that I was “not in trouble” but we would “have to talk.” The last time we spoke he was informing me that this organization doesn’t respect me, something that I found out myself the hard way, and now someone was dead. Sadly, he never stopped the organization from harassing me, obviously sometimes watched or overheard based off of what he had told me, and he didn’t stop a pledge from dying in the fraternity house.
Let me be clear: The Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer helped plan the event that killed a Penn State fraternity pledge. He discussed with the pledge master how much alcohol would be used in the event and where the drinking stations would be. He was present at the house the entire night and even made a physical appearance as the pledges walked into the house and during their first night ritual.
The Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer watched the ritual from an indoor balcony on the second floor, and when the night was getting to the point where students would be forced to drink mass amounts of alcohol, he ducked into his room and didn’t come out until the next morning when he knew it would all be over. I locked eyes with him while he was on that balcony. He wasn’t happy and he wasn’t smiling. He was scared. He knew just how much alcohol these young men would be forced to drink, and he knew that allowing it to happen could be a grave mistake.
On February 3, 2017, as a pledge lie on the floor holding his last breath, the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer walked right past him in order to get to work. He stated under oath that he never did this, even though it was caught on a video camera and a State College Detective testified as to seeing him do this. This isn’t the only thing the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer lied about under oath! He consistently stated that he never served alcohol to minors and never participated in hazing. Lies. For some odd reason, the Centre County District Attorney declined to press perjury charges against the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer.
Let me be clear yet again: It was the new culture brought into the Beta Theta Pi house by the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer that led to the death of a Penn State pledge in February of 2017. Was the culture itself brought over directly from the football program, is that why Don Abbey, a Penn State football alumnus himself, was adamant on not allowing this new house advisor to have so much power? It was no surprise to me when Isaiah Humphries filed a hazing lawsuit against Penn State in federal court on January 14, 2020.
The number one named individual in Humphries’ suit is the Penn State football Head Coach. Some Penn State football players lashed out against the hazing victim on social media, with Corey Bolds stating Humphries is “looking for money & a headline” and Buffalo Bills player Ryan Bates stating “I can assure you that everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie.” Even one of the Penn State football players calling Humphries a liar even threatened to punch me before! When looking for the liar in a conversation, simply close your eyes and listen for who calls the other person a liar first, especially if no prior words have been spoken. Or in the words of Dave Ramsay, “check to see if their lips are moving.”
I myself was hazed by a current Penn State football player while I was in high school, I had a football shoved up a place that a football should never go. This event is awkwardly similar to Humphries’ allegations that players were “going to Sandusky” him. It took months of working with a school nurse, Spanish teachers, principals, and finally acceptance by the head football coach to rid my high school of its football hazing culture. “Someone had to go to the school nurse, had a bloody nose, this can’t happen,” my football coach said to the team during our pre-school workout one day. Every time he saw me in the halls, he would say, “Hi, Kordel.” During my freshman year of high school, he became one of the few people in the school who talked to me.
After being vigorously hazed in high school, I never wanted to join a fraternity in college, as the common consensus was that any student looking to join a fraternity is looking to get hazed. Then I came across Beta Theta Pi, the Penn State establishment fraternity. A reporter with the Reading Eagle, a newspaper in Pennsylvania, shared with me that once during his college days at Penn State he was driving past the Beta house and someone was running out, fast, and he slammed on the brakes but not fast enough. He had just run over Joe Paterno! “Beta was always known to be a pretty exclusive place,” he told me.
The exclusiveness is what drew me in. Such close ties to the Penn State establishment meant this fraternity could never haze, right? It was a dry house, unlike the others, and there would be no raging parties keeping me up all night and away from my academic studies. This was the house. This was the house. This was the house that allowed the Penn State football Head Athletic Trainer to be their advisor.