[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape apologia.]
Yesterday reports started emerging that Penn State had decided to keep Joe Paterno's statue at Beaver Stadium, in deference to his defenders on campus and in the alumni rolls:
The trustees' reluctance to remove the statue is motivated, in part, by a desire not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach despite the damning findings of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse cover-up detailed in the Freeh report, the sources said. Some trustees also said in interviews they want to resist being pressured by the media into a sudden decision about such an emotionally charged issue.The Freeh report proved that Paterno was aware of the 1998 investigation into Jerry Sandusky's conduct with young boys, an investigation that found that Sandusky was engaging in behaviors consistent with grooming a child for sexual abuse. Paterno, despite claiming to Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post "nobody had any inkling of it," was interested and involved in the case. The opening paragraph of Jenkins' follow-up to that interview after the release of the Freeh report is scathing:
Joe Paterno was a liar, there's no doubt about that now. He was also a cover-up artist. If the Freeh report [pdf] is correct in its summary of the Penn State child molestation scandal, the public Paterno of the last few years was a work of fiction. In his place is a hubristic, indictable hypocrite.Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI and the head of an investigation into the role of senior Penn State officials in covering up Sandusky's crimes, stated quite plainly:
"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for fourteen years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."Paterno did nothing to prevent Sandusky from using his Second Mile charity to prey on children, other than no longer allowing him to abuse children ON THE PREMISES. He did not think raping a ten-year-old child in 2001 should disqualify Sandusky from operating a summer camp at a Penn State satellite campus in Erie for six years. He made every decision as if the football program were the highest possible good and he protected a child rapist.
Possibly because the earlier trial balloon drew justified criticism, Penn State released a statement clarifying it hadn't made a decision regarding the statue.
Contrary to various reports, neither the Board of Trustees nor University Administration has taken a vote or made a decision regarding the Joe Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium.Fucking cowards.
Considering the fact that there are people on this earth who were sexually abused and/or raped because of Joe Paterno's concern with his "legacy," with how his work and reputation would be affected by separating vulnerable children from a sexual predator, leaving the statue up is unthinkable. If you could put a statue in the stocks for eternity, if you could transform that image into a cautionary tale about hubris and those who would use human dignity as currency, then it might be acceptable. But leaving it as is is not an option.
To have the major image of Joe Paterno on campus be this folksy cast of him with a giant grin and his tie askew in the wind, a single index finger in the air as if someone had just asked him how many sexual predators he was currently keeping quiet for is a capitulation to the worst parts of the University's culture. It allows those who apologized for him, who rioted for him, who to this day will defend him on social media, those people who do not understand your odd moral code where football isn't the most important thing in the world, those who reside in a moral universe in which their University's team winning is totally worth what Sandusky did to mostly poor, most minority kids because they can hang onto a sliver of doubt or can put this monstrous choice into some sort of perspective where Paterno isn't this totally vile, cynical figure, it allows those people a place on campus to which they can make a pilgrimage, to engage in fellowship with other people who believe as they do that revering this man's legend is much more important than the children he ignored his responsibility to.
Once you put the Freeh report in the proper place in Paterno's biography, it proves that he was the sort of man who was able to make terrible moral bargains with himself while publicly holding himself to be a paragon of social responsibility. He was the righteous man, unwilling to exploit his players for their labor, interested in turning out educated athletes, pillar of the community. All of that was to glorify himself, and we know this because when offered the choice between replacing a member of his staff and coving up child rape, he chose football.
He chose a strong program; he chose to abdicate moral responsibility to protect his winning record and his dynasty and everything that statue represents. There is no question that Penn State is going to spend years defining itself by the series of decisions Joe Paterno made about Jerry Sandusky. And it is totally foreseeable that portions of the campus might form their own durable mythology of apologia about Paterno and his behavior, and they'll do this because Joe Paterno irrevocably damaged the reputation of their school. So they'll cling to the heroic image of him that much tighter. Those people don't deserve a place to worship him.
If Penn State now concerns itself with education in any form, it will recognize the importance of removing that man's face and name from campus, unless they are attached to a meaningful discussion of rape culture. Otherwise it looks like he made the right choice to look the other way.
I mean sure, his last days were lived in disgrace, but if he had reported child rape he might have lost a few football games. He had his dynasty to think about, his legacy.
Rewarding that decision posthumously is obscene.