I can sympathize with the outrage of the students who ran to protect their icon, their God — it made sense to me, even if it seemed misguided. What did anyone expect? This myth of Jo Pa wasn’t built in a day and people were wholly invested in it in a huge way. I saw it with my own eyes. Shit! I even started to get swept up in it, even while I was aware of the construction in all my haughty cynicism. And, honestly, I think part of the outrage of Penn Staters comes from that awareness, too. As people suggest that Paterno should behave like the God we claim he is, students were saying: he is not a god, he is a man, and he failed like one. But a real conversation about what really happened and what should happen now was wholly shut down.

I blame the press for misguiding the direction of this conversation — for making this about the icon of Joe Paterno rather than the systematic abuse of young boys and the failings of a system to handle the case appropriately. Instead, in a need for sensation, the press and those on social media outlets rallied against our icon because that was the sexiest headline. And, of course, the student body reacted with violent defensiveness. Real communication, real consideration for how Joe Paterno failed was never allowed to happen. These kids — this community — was never allowed to consider what this all really meant because everyone had to sexy up this story with a celebrity and his myth because, what fun would it be to destroy that narrative so thoroughly for the sake of greedy readers. It made for good television.

Well, I hope that everyone has fully enjoyed watching this spectacle from the outside — that your morbid curiosity and insatiable desire for public scandal has been thoroughly fed. I’m sure that it will disappear from your consciousness as soon as another sexy headline comes along to feed your addictions. But it won’t disappear for us here at Penn State. The identity of this university has been utterly ruined and for all the wrong reasons. The real issues have been thoroughly buried. And now, we don’t have healthy discourse on our hands, we have anger and frustration and camps of "Gotta Go Joe!" and "Stay Joe!" Now, we have an image problem that has occluded the real issue: that a man allegedly raped little boys and that an administration made aware of this fact failed to respond appropriately, making it possible for him to continue. Now we have some perverse narrative about a fallen God and a university that allowed little boys to be raped because our football team was more important.

Joe Paterno on October 25 at a press conference. This image from the Penn State website.
Melanie DiCarlo / Source
Joe Paterno on October 25 at a press conference. This image from the Penn State website.
The front page of gopsusports.com
The front page of gopsusports.com

I beg of all of you, help get the conversation back on track. Subdue the violence and vitriol. Encourage good conversation and help each other avoid generalizations. Find the facts and use them. Use this as a chance to make a better world — a world where we can talk openly and critically and peacefully. Anything but this.

Denise Grollmus a former writer for Cleveland Scene who now teaches at Penn State.

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13 comments
Harpua89
Harpua89

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your voice is a beacon of sanity in a sea of madness.

Ag224
Ag224

This is absolutely brilliant. Thank you for understanding that for the media, this was about focusing on a god's fall from grace because a headline like that would make much more money than a headline about "Jerry Sandusky, pederast" or focusing on the boys who have had their souls ripped away from them. The Roman Colisseum is alive and well in 2011 and too many people think they are heroes for screaming for Joe Pa's head as part of a faceless mob. I hate to break it to them, but they're cowards who have let ESPN, CNN, ABC, etc. drive the conversation here and take the focus off of Sandusky and these kids and put it on Paterno because it will sell more papers and get higher TV ratings. Again, thanks for writing this.

Mike
Mike

Give Joe Pa a break! The acceptance of and covering for the rape of children is synonomous regarding anyone related to the catholic church! The pope most likely called Joe Pa and offered him an immediate bishop position...no doubt Joe Pa demanded a cardinal position at the least...considering his qualifications!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

E
E

"Joe Pa" is a perv himself...a sick old man. How can you NOT call the cops when you see a 10 year old being raped by your own employee/staff? And he knew this was happening for over 10 years. Joe got off easy with just losing his job.

Cheri Leoncio
Cheri Leoncio

Ms. Grollmus,I do not trust journalists/media to write truth. Not that they don't (always) on purpose because I know from experience that they do not get the truth or the facts to start with. But what is disgusting is the "frenzy" they (most often times) are trying to create.With that said, Thank you for your extremely well written and well thought-out article. I have read too many knee-jerk and reactive opinions on this incident.

bulletbob
bulletbob

But isn't that what we do to our football players, high school, college or pro? We are doing the same thing with Tebow, putting him on a pedastal and making him out to be some sort of god, all these athletes and coaches alike are just people, that's it. We must never lose sight of that

Great Speckled Bird
Great Speckled Bird

Ms. Grollmus, I congratulate you on your incisive article about Penn State and Paterno. Penn State has always been a great university and Joe Paterno a great coach. What really bothers me the most is Joe's choice to do as little as he could legally to report this horrendous act to the proper authorities, but instead, get it swept under the carpet. I have to think that he was trying to save his own ass and legend. I wonder if this incident ever crossed his mind during the years that led up to his sensational fall?

There is another aspect to this cover-up. All those involved were men. Men have a way of compartmentalizing their lives when it comes to sex. It's the "old boy" thing. They all lie about improper sex unless it is to their advantage to tell the truth. Paterno was certainly no better than the rest of those who failed to tell the whole truth. Some of these men have to take the blame for this horror. We all have feet of clay when pushed to rise to an impossible height.

Of course there is nothing left to do but pick up the pieces and go forward. I hope that Penn State does a better job of it than the Catholic Church did with their sex problems. They seemed to have just gone underground with them.

Mike
Mike

I hope someone puts the bastard in prison...

Mike
Mike

PS: I hope authorities will put "ole Joe Pa" in prison for the rest of his life...and he complains to prison authorities about being ass raped...and they do nothing.

Mike
Mike

The most predominate issus is that "Joe Pa" willingly decided to become the accomplice of a child rapist..."Joe Pa" assured through his silence and inattention that more children would be raped by his partner.

 
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