GOODBYE, JOE PATERNO; THE MYTH OF A HERO, by Art Smukler MD

It was a strange morning.

A good friend posted on my Facebook wall, “Is Joe Paterno still your hero?”

How can someone be my hero when he allowed a sexual predator to go free?

Then I dressed for my morning workout with a blue Penn State T-shirt and pulled a plain gray sweatshirt over it. The thought crossed my mind that I could still wear the Penn State T-shirt because it was hidden by my sweatshirt. That made me sad and then very angry. “JoePa, why did you do this to me?” Instinctively personalizing the whole sordid story.

To look up to someone older and wiser is human nature. It starts when we’re babies and our parents are our omnipotent heroes. We continue this need, but shift the power to teachers, sports figures or presidents. Some even shift it to a god — an all powerful presence. In fact, most of the world takes great comfort in religion.

Or; some of us chose JoePa. But whoever we chose, at some point he will most certainly fail us. Human beings and gods can’t control everything. Perfection doesn’t exist.

Todd Blackledge, a former Penn State quarterback and now an ESPN college football analyst described it well. He said he still loved Paterno and considered him a mentor.

But I also know that all humans are frail. All humans are weak in moments. And you can’t have your trust totally in other human beings, because they’ll let you down. It’s not just privilege that comes with authority, it’s also accountability and responsibility… Someone needed to go to the police.

Goodbye, JoePa. I’m going to miss you and miss my fantasy.

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11 Responses to GOODBYE, JOE PATERNO; THE MYTH OF A HERO, by Art Smukler MD

  1. Mike McMaster says:

    Art:

    I have also wrestled with whether to wear my extensive collection of PSU clothing since this ugly incident became public knowledge. I had to have serious discussions with my two older children (a high school senior considering PSU and a high school sophomore) explaining that even though I was a tremendous supporter of Joe Paterno, that he needed to resign immediately. I needed them to know that when a person, regardless of their track record, makes that decision to allow a “suspected” child molester maintain an office in the building where the crime occurred, that they must be held accountable.

    I also felt compelled to e-mail Graham Spanier, explaining my feelings and that both he and Joe must resign immediately. I am sure that my message had little to bear on his decision, but I needed to get it off of my chest.

    I remember that I had a Penn State book bag when I attended Central. I did not choose it because I wanted to go to PSU (in fact, I ended up at PSU because of poor planning). I chose it because Joe Paterno ran such a good, clean program. This incident calls into question everything that Joe did in the past. It is unfortunate, but he deserves to have his entire legacy called into question.

    I have decided to continue to show my allegiance to Penn State. I am still grieving for the victims and pray that they can somehow recover. I also want to show support for the current students, professors and administrators that had no knowledge of this incident and who will bear an unjust burden due to the actions of a serial pedophile and those who allowed it to continue.

    Mike

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  2. Lilliana Falco says:

    It’s sad that because sometimes people don’t wanted their identity associated to something wrong or bad or possibly unbelievable, they simply don’t step forward . Life has a way of showing you otherwise.Maybe the Gods do have more control than we chose to recognize since he is now in the forefront and has paid the tremendous price of guilt, resentment and I would hope being the man he is, regret in not following his standards for responsibility and accountability.

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  3. kim masters says:

    Did anyone ever consider that maybe Joe thought that what the assistant coach did was not a big deal ? Does anyone know if Joe had been a victim of these experiences in his own life and maybe became a coach in spite of them…..If you want to know why Joe did not do anything about the abuse, you have to know about his own childhood expereinces with it. That might not be part of a known biography.

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  4. David says:

    Art, I understand your Penn State sadness and “Perfection doesn’t exist” principle. But, since you are a psychiatrist, I’d really like to hear your analysis of why, when faced with such a character-defining decision, someone like Joe would make the wrong decision. He never followed up to protect young boys. I understand the weight of his dilemma: the future of Penn State’s football program versus the future of several young boys, but why choose the former vs. the latter? BTW, I wrote a blog about it the day before he was fired – saying he should be fired. Check it out: http://straightspeak.com/2011/11/it%E2%80%99s-football-to-hell-with-morals-god-and-little-boys/

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    • artsmuklermd says:

      Hi David; Your feelings and post regarding what Joe didn’t do is clearly how I and so many others feel. Why he didn’t take action is not so clear. My theory is that there was an enormous amount of denial going on among the power elite. To actually believe that a person who you worked closely with for thirty years and who was instrumental in coining Linebacker U could be a monster is something too much to accept. Let’s say a close friend, brother or revered teacher was accused of a similar crime. Often, we just can’t believe it. It’s too horrendous to picture a person who we love and respect being a sadistic pervert. What does that make us if our friend is so disgusting? I think Joe fell into the same trap. I can’t believe that he consciously and knowingly picked football over the welfare of small children. If he did, that would also make him a monster. I just don’t think that’s the case. Thanks, David, Art

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      • David says:

        Art – makes some sense. The workings of the subconscious and the inner loathing and self-loathing (“if he did that … what’s that make me.”) could have been so powerful Joe got stuck. Wishing, hoping, maybe believing, it would go away. Sounds human.

        Suggestion: Art take these emotional times and turn it into a mystery – short story, essay, novel. It would be from your heart and deepest emotions – where all great stories begin.

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  5. Rob Nelson says:

    Wearing my PSU sweatshirt as I type, I want you to know I am glad they fired the Bishop Paterno. He hid his pal from the light of day. Rapes continued. I am angry that the pervert was allowed to roam State College & PSU facilities. The fault is most clearly in the hands of Mike M and Joe P for failing to act powerfully and immediately. Instead, the best “caught in the act anal sex witness” gets a great job for YEARS. I am so angry about the children (victims of rape) being abused and these powerful men failing to act. Heard this morning Bishop Paterno hired a expensive attorney. He needs a team of them.

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  6. Ron S says:

    I have proudly worn my Penn State every day this week. I have never had so many strangers approach me and begin talking About PSU; all expressing encouragement and good wishes.

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  7. Neal Koss says:

    What a sad situation!! It’s just so hard to believe that JP would allow a known pervert to continue. That puts him in the same class as the bishops who allowed the priests to continue or anyone else who allows these sickos to continue (sorry, Art, for the use of the word”sicko” 🙂

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  8. Good clear thinking, Art. Terrible events, terrible disappointments. Thanks for update on your blog. Pete Palamountain.

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  9. Jann Feldman says:

    Good Save, Art! It was a sad situation and subjugated values which enabled the Penn Powers to not think through the damage that was being done to the young boys.

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