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False Gods and Monsters: The Terrible Costs of the Joe Paterno Cult at Penn State

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Joe Paterno Statue by Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday, July 22, 2012, Penn State University removed the statue that the university had erected in Joe Paterno's honor at Beaver Stadium. In removing the statue, the university has made an emphatic statement:

  • Penn State University no longer wishes to commemorate its disgraced football coach
How could Joe Paterno, a man who had been venerated as a hero for decades and whose name had come to be synonymous with Penn State University, fall so far so fast? Simple. One need look no further than the Executive Summary of the Freeh Report ( ) to learn that, by his own admission, Joe Paterno played an active role for more than a decade in covering up Jerry Sandusky's criminal pedophilia. Worse, Joe Paterno demonstrated a callous disregard for the kids that Jerry Sandusky was assaulting. At no time did Paterno take explicit steps to protect Jerry Sandusky's victims. Instead, Paterno aided and abetted Jerry Sandusky by ensuring that, in spite of a series of documented indiscretions (in 1998 and 2001), Jerry Sandusky would maintain a relationship in good standing with Penn State Football and would retain full access to all Penn State University facilities. As a result, this enabled Jerry Sandusky to continue exploiting his association with Penn State to lure, trap and abuse kids.

If Jerry Sandusky was a monster, then Joe Paterno was his Dr. Frankenstein. Not only did Joe Paterno help to create the monster, but after adorning the fiend in a Penn State uniform,  Paterno callously unleashed that dreadful beast on his unwitting, innocent victims. 

Why would Paterno aid and abet such a reprehensible monster? The answer to that mystery lies in the comments of a janitor who, in the fall of 2000, witnessed Jerry Sandusky assault a young boy in the Lasch Building at Penn State University. When asked why he did not report the incident to the proper authorities, the janitor replied that doing so would have been pointless because "football runs this University." In other words, the janitor was convinced that, had he reported the incident to the police, "the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs." Further, the janitor believed that, as payment for his good citizenship, he would have been terminated, "I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone" (Freeh Report, 2012, p. 65).

This is what comes of worshiping false gods. In such a cult of personality, egomaniacs like Joe Paterno get the idea that they can do no wrong. Jerry Sandusky helped Joe Paterno win football games and, since that was the most valuable currency at Penn State University during the long, blighted era of the Joe Paterno Cult, Joe Paterno did everything in his power to excuse--and in some cases even reward!--Jerry Sandusky for his crimes.

By removing the Joe Paterno statue, Penn State has taken the first crucial step toward dismantling the nefarious influences of its Joe Paterno Cult. So long as the statue remained, Penn State would never have been able overcome the taint of its slavish reverence for a false and tragically-flawed god.

No matter how many games they might win, football teams should never be treated like the highest priority at any university. Treating football as if it is the top priority at any university literally flips logic on its head--or, in the case of the Joe Paterno Cult, turns justice inside out. Only in such a deeply corrupt culture would it be possible to excuse football "heroes" for unspeakable attacks on innocent, helpless kids.

The true purpose of a university is to nurture the next generation of enlightened leaders. Penn State is a great university and its best years can still lie in the future, but only if it remains committed to getting its priorities straight--and chucks its Joe Paterno statue on the rubbish heap.

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Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at CSUPueblo. Tim's primary research interests are in the areas of science, technology, society (STS) and the future and Tim blogs about those topics at the following sites: The Socjournal, (more...)

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If Jerry Sandusky was a monster, then Joe Paterno ... by Timothy McGettigan on Monday, Jul 23, 2012 at 8:30:59 PM
Why didn't they just leave the Paterno statue and ... by John Jonik on Monday, Jul 23, 2012 at 9:14:32 PM
This is an important precedent. Honors that accrue... by Timothy McGettigan on Monday, Jul 23, 2012 at 10:15:09 PM
Great Point about the Priests and their duties...m... by RJ O'Guillory on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012 at 5:20:16 PM
Yours would be a much more truthful depiction of t... by Timothy McGettigan on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012 at 6:15:46 PM