By Cordi Craig
Just a few months ago, Joe Paterno, former football coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions since ‘65, was considered an enemy to many; a man without the moral sense to report a crime so upsetting and offensive that he was fired with just three games left in the regular 2011-2012 football season. As the scandal became viral across the indefinite territory known as Web 2.0, articles, editorials, Facebook statuses, and tweets painted a defaced mural of a former hero. An ever-increasing pool of media sources, bloggers, parents, and citizens were up in arms, suffocating Paterno’s coaching legend with the tightening rope of perjury. Ugly terms such as “negligent,” “damning,” and “monster,” plagued the sports sections of November 2011 newspapers.
But even while his reputation was tarnished with animalistic accusations and disturbingly de-humanizing adjectives, on January 22, 2012, the day after his death, many mass media outlets began (what I like to call) the “Re-Humanizing Effect.” In an editorial published with The Philadelphia Inquirer, a writer states, “Now that Paterno is gone, perhaps his career can be put in its proper perspective. He was human. He made mistakes.” But can failing to report an act of sexual abuse on an innocent child be put at the same caliber as that time you decided to barhop instead of studying for an exam or “forgetting” to call your mother-in-law on her birthday? No. It’s not even in the same galaxy as a “mistake.” That is a travesty.
Now that news of Paterno’s fatal lung cancer has taken over the media, descriptions of his past have shown a Houdini-esque transformation. He has taken on such literary depictions as “legendary,” “great,” “outstanding,” “admirable,” “courageous,” “positive,” “real”…
Well, you get the point.
And we’re supposed to accept this? An incident that has very well destroyed the psyche of over forty young boys is expected to be swept into the cobwebs of our cognitive memories and replaced with a bedazzled photo frame of JoePa’s ’83 Championship Trophy?
As with all death, sorrow follows. Yes, lung cancer is devastating. And yes, he achieved triumphs, alongside his mistakes. He was a man of great successes, great influence, and great talent; maybe even a coaching Hercules among mere mortals. He made an impact not only on the athletic triumphs of Pennsylvania State University, but also the collegiate sports world on the whole. Yet that impact is now blanketed in a quilt of perversity. In accordance with writer Buzz Bissinger of The Daily Beast who states, “He must [also] be remembered for what he did not do…the willful inaction that by all accounts helped to aid and abet an alleged sexual predator.” We cannot forget the silence.
The outbreak of scandal turned JoePa into the wart-clad toad of football, but with the kiss of death he is crowned prince by the media. This is a fairytale that nobody wins and an abusive scandal that cannot be forgotten in the wake of illness.