"Say It Ain't So, Joe"

Power corrupts.  Power allows for invincibility. Power produces arrogance.  Power in a bureaucracy becomes insular, revered, untouchable, and even fearful.

This is the culture which Joe Paterno created as the legendary football coach at Penn State.  The man had more power than Graham Spanier, Penn State University President; Gary Schultz, VP; Tim Curley, Athletic Director; Thomas Harmon, University Police Chief; a university police detective, and a state public caseworker.

He was so powerful and omnipotent, that while the initial investigation on sexual abuse by the now convicted pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, was proceeding, the Penn State Board of Trustees re-negotiated his contract.  Paterno was to be paid $3 million if…he agreed to retire at the end of the 2011 season. Additionally, the Board was to “forgive” interest free loans of $350,000 which Paterno had borrowed over his years as coach.  Finally, the New York Times (7/14/12) reported the Paterno family would have use of Penn State’s private plane and luxury box at Beaver Stadium for the next 25 years.

Now that’s power.  And arrogance.  And selfishness. And narcissism. And on the part of the Board of Directors, it was stupidity.

What WERE they thinking?  What were they fearful of?  TheReputation of Penn State.  Pure and simple.

Louis Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I, who spent 7 months examining the records of these cases,  reported that university senior officials were protecting the reputation of Penn St., over the welfare of children:  the victims of horrendous pedophilia, for over 14 years.  Yes, this was the  reputation that brought in millions of dollars/ year to Happy Valley. So those in power chose to keep it that way.

Money is power, and power rules. Only I’m quite certain these children of Sandusky’s Second Mile, are not very happy these days, do you?  The Valley didn’t protect them, nor did it even try, period.

Instead, the Valley Colluded.  Collusion is most often the culprit when those in power, when those who are sworn to protect others, or whose roles and responsibilities are beyond reproach, is the silent sorcerer of sorrow and pain.  It’s silence is deafening (see my blogs Part I, II, III in Nov. 2011 on Penn St. Sexual Abuse Scandal in Chicago Now).

It’s “Complicity,” as Bomani Jones called it, on Outside the Lines (OTL), 7/12/12. LZ Granderson, Sr. Writer for ESPN,  called it like it was:  “little boys being raped on Joe’s watch,” on OTL ( 7/13/12).  And finally, Paul Fineman, sportswriter on OTL (7/13/12)  stated that "Joe Paterno's legacy has been torched, tarnished, and done."

Given my 30+ years of providing therapy for sexual abuse survivors, I guarantee these children, now young men, and their emotions, are far from representing what Happy Valley projected onto the rest of the sports’ world.   These survivors’ core senses of self, which we as therapists slowly help reveal and repair, in a safe and secure alliance, are usually filled with rage, shame, confusion, loneliness, fear, depression and/or anxiety, which you or I can barely imagine. BARELY.

So what now, people say?  Remove Joe’s statue?  Remove his name from the hallowed halls of Beaver Stadium?

Our brains are neurologically encoded with memory and association.  Joe Paterno is the most victorious coach in college history. Yet  he will now be remembered as the coach who allowed 14 years of child sexual assault to continue on his watch, not for setting numbers at Penn State’s football program.  Our collective memories will now always associate him and Sandusky in one breadth.  In one thought. And associated with emotions I wouldn’t even begin to guess.

Joe’s statue will not be remembered for the nearly 50 years of glorious pride he brought to Happy Valley, but rather what he could have done, and should have done, the minute Mr. Query informed him of what he saw in the men's  shower room, as Sandusky was sodomizing a young boy. That is what our collective memories will associate Paterno with now. And rightly so.

Fineman again, said it well, when agreeing with Granderson,  that Paterno's statue needs to be torn down, "like the Berlin Wall,"  was in 1989.    What it represents to all its victims is similar to what it represented to those of us living through the Cold War - and watching those events on television in November, 1989. It was powerful.  That night, as my husband and I were mesmerized to the evening news, he said to me , "I wish we could be there now," in reference to being in Berlin, and the Cold War symbolically coming to an end at that time.

So with the Paterno's statue being removed, at a minimum, this would go a long way in beginning to assist the survivors of Sandusky's assaults, and the silence that Paterno and his cohort contained for "the good of the university."

For anyone apologetic for Paterno’s inactions, I can only say this:  you have not had the honor I’ve had, in listening to 30 years worth of survivors' sexual assault or rape, in my office.  You’ve not heard their stories, of their pain, their broken marriages, their daily struggles with addictive behaviors, their inability to keep their jobs, their cutting on themselves, or homelessness and couch-surfing.

You haven’t heard how teenagers have chosen to become paid prostitutes instead of remaining with their sexual predatory uncles, fathers, or step-fathers.  And you haven’t cried tears with them as they try to re-trace years of lost time and memories which they have repressed so deeply, that all you can do is sit with them and help them associate any loving memories that still remain of their 3rd grade teachers or next – door neighbors who smiled at them, or invited them over for Oreos and milk.

You haven't heard how siblings and families have been split apart, how parents and children have not spoken in 40 years to each other, how some continue to wish for just one word from the other, and how a mother, aunt, uncle, or cousin would like to repair a long-lost relationship - and sob at the loss of not helping when it was possible.

So I watch you, Matt Millen on OTL.  I can see and hear your disbelief, and I truly appreciate how you tell us your story of  Coach Paterno, and the fine coach he was to you.  He meant a lot, and to many others in his years at Penn State. But somewhere in your mind, and in many others, you must be saying to yourselves, “Say It Ain’t So, Joe. Say It Ain’t So.”

 

 

 

 

 

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