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Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D.

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Is the Media Whitewashing Joe Paterno?

Posted: 01/25/2012 11:00 am

I'm outraged over the media coverage of Penn State former football coach, Joe Paterno, who died recently of lung cancer. All of the news coverage I've seen is all about the "legacy," "ethics," "values" and "successful career" of the "Legend." In the midst of a flurry of condolences, there are glaringly none for the young boys who allegedly suffered -- let's call it what it appears to be -- rape. Come to think of it, I'm not just outraged; I'm disgusted and deeply saddened.

No media condolences or empathy for the ruined lives of these young men. No mention of the physical and emotional pain and anguish they likely carry with them for the rest of their lives. In the midst of accolades for a famous coach who admitted he knew about the rapes going on -- likely repeatedly, and never told the police a thing about it -- empathy or compassion for the victims is glaringly missing. There was a line "1/4 mile long" according to ABC News, of "10,000" according to The New York Times, to honor Paterno at his wake on Tuesday. You don't see tears for the victims in the eyes of the multitude of mourners gathering around Paterno's statue at Penn State. No tears for the boys who have to read the plaque that says "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian."

I spent a good part of the last few days looking for any media mention about the many young men who suffered abuse and Paterno's silence, and found little or none. Yes, Paterno claimed to report the initial incident to his immediate superiors, and later in hindsight after his firing and just before his demise, to his credit, said in an interview he "should have done more." That's about all there is -- and that's just a footnote to the lede "Fallen Legend" Paterno glorification.

On "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer," reporter Dan Harris called Paterno "the mythic embodiment of success with honor." What honor? That's my favorite TV network newscast, but please Mr. Harris, keeping forced sodomy quiet, protecting the "legends" of Penn State football is not honorable in any way. I do give Harris and ABC a little credit however, Harris reported, "after he died on Sunday, many of his fans and players said they thought it was not just cancer that killed him." Matt Millen, NFL Analyst, said on-camera "he died of a broken heart." But ABC went on to report that the legend's son, Jay Paterno, denied it, saying "Joe-Pa was completely at peace."

On the new "CBS News This Morning," which I also like, Paterno's son and daughter appeared live Tuesday, introduced by Erica Hill saying "Joe Paterno's career was cut short..." Perhaps it should have been rewritten to say that the functional lives of the alleged victims were cut short and irreparably damaged. New co-anchor, Charlie Rose, said to the young Paternos, "Our condolences. Talk about his legacy." Does Rose mean Paterno's and Penn State's legacy of shame? Daughter Mary Kay Paterno-Hort: "He always taught us commitment and loyalty... He was always concerned about other people." Obviously the commitment was to the university and its mega-million-maker football program. It appears Joe Paterno's human concern was for the coaches and university's reputations, at the expense of the young men who suffered for years.

When Ms. Hill asked son Jay Paterno about the former Penn State president and trustees attending services, he seemed shocked, "the focus (on Penn State officials attending the services) takes away from what we are trying to do in the next couple of days. We are celebrating a 61-year career at Penn State. We're celebrating 85 years of a life lived at a very high level of integrity, of morality, loyalty to Penn State."

Integrity? Morality? Loyalty? If indeed his legendary father knew about the recurring rapes in his football team showers and only relied on an assistant to report it only to lower-level school officials, and only once -- and then never said another word of follow-up on the problem -- can we call that "a very high level of integrity, of morality?"

Alleged sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky, of all people, contributed to the media disgrace quoted in the New York Times, "Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached." Clean competition? Practicing morality? Call it gross denial.

I do appreciate the football players left in the middle of the scandal, who observed a moment of silence for the victims of sexual abuse before the game right after Paterno was fired. At least that was mentioned in Paterno's New York Times obituary, but only in a middle paragraph. So many more column inches were published about Paterno's Legend, "Many alumni and fans remain upset with the board over Paterno's firing and how it was handled. 'He was a human being and he made mistakes like everyone else,' said Samantha Gyurko, a 19-year-old sophomore from Bridgewater, N.J. 'I don't think his legacy should be tainted by one mistake.'"

The Associate Press, and Sports Illustrated's website reported that even President Obama offered "condolences and prayers" to the Paterno family. Not to the rape victims, though. I wish our president had at least mentioned the injustice and utter sadness of the whole mess.

I offer my condolences and prayers to the young men first and to those who ever suffered abuse of any kind, from trusted legends or not.

 
 
 

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