By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) By not decrying it, they tacitly endorse it, this latest re-victimization of at least 32 boys whose rape at the hands of Jerry Sandusky was facilitated by Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program.
Neither the university nor the family of the shamed former head coach offered comment when asked by Philly.com about the construction of two new statues of Paterno and the plan by the artists to send one of them on a national tour. This re-imagined version of the mothballed original has an upraised clenched fist instead of a “number one” sign, a defiant gesture that tells those boys — now men — how little they continue to matter in the dark, sick heart of the Paterno cult.
The two sculptors casting the replicas told the website that one will be given to the Paterno family and the other will be available “for all the fans and the people that bleed blue and white” so that the image is “making a statement.”
Paterno’s own sworn testimony and later statements to investigators said it all, however, that for years he knowingly allowed a child predator to use Penn State football as part of a personal farm for cultivating new victims. But reality hasn’t deterred the JoeBots from creating alternate worlds in which this never happened and none of this was said.
The builders of the new statue will make money indeed, if they charge a nominal fee for these zombies to line up for pictures with their fallen icon. These people are compelled to feed their insatiable desire to be defined essentially by the success of a college football team. Their own self-worth is so much a function of Penn State and Paterno that they have created complicated personal fantasy worlds in which everything can be as it once was.
To date, there are 32 victims and counting, with $93 million in settlements paid out by the school and counting. But that isn’t as important to these people as revising Paterno’s history to ease their own pain, trying to make themselves feel whole again.
When the original was first taken down from its place outside Beaver Stadium, the university correctly assessed that it would represent for victims “a recurring wound” and would be “a source of division and an obstacle to healing.” It was and is the obvious right move.
There was pushback at the time, though, and the ensuing years have only brought a stronger desire to restore it, as the JoeBots have coalesced outside the school and are still rotting it from within. A Quinnipiac poll a year ago found that 59 percent of Pennsylvania residents wanted the statue put back, with strong support across gender and age groups.
The new Penn State administration has already softened the school’s stance. They’ve realized that their constituency is motivated deeply and in twisted enough fashion to ignore the obvious message to victims raped on their campus, in their football building, over many years by a beloved, trusted coach. Of course that coach was allowed unfettered access to children and facilities long after many, including Paterno, were well aware of his criminal behavior.
Athletic Director Sandy Barbour kept open the possibility that Penn State would reinstall the statue, telling USA Today, “If and/or when there comes a time, it will be in good shape.” President Eric Barron is also reconsidering all that stuff his predecessor said about any obstacles or recurring wounds, saying last year, “A decision is not imminent. I will follow a process of deliberation and discussion that will take time.”
That’s why the school is now choosing silence when asked about the new version and the planned traveling roadshow. This is fine with them now, until we hear otherwise.
Same goes for members of the Paterno family, who have seen their patriarch’s own admissions under oath change their futures irreparably. They hire lawyers and PR consultants and fan the flames amid the worshipful lost souls, but there’s no going back. They won’t comment either, because they have to embrace any help with imaging, those 32 or more victims be damned.
They’d be better off instead heeding the words of son Jay Paterno near the end of the award-winning documentary film Happy Valley. Of the family name, he says, “It used to mean one thing, now it means something else.”
The sooner that truth is actually recognized, the better. Instead, we get continued efforts to lionize a man who spent years knowing he was doing less than everything in his power to protect innocent children from a monster. Such things must continue to be called out and shouted down by those who actually care.
Thirty-two victims, $93 million, zero statues.