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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Paterno's fall from grace

November 16, 2011|By Joe Puglia

In 1928, a pensive boy waited outside the courtroom in which the Chicago Grand Jury conducted its business. As Joe Jackson approached, the boy asked, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Shoeless Joe despairingly remarked, “Yes kid, I’m afraid it’s so.”

“Well I never would have thought it,” remarked the boy.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, a baseball hero and part of the Chicago Black Sox scandal, helped engineer Chicago’s defeat in the 1928 World Series.

At Penn State we ask a similar question today regarding the scandal associated with Joe Paterno, the school’s former football coach. He appears to have passed the buck regarding Jerry Sandusky, who allegedly raped a boy in the showers of his football complex. Paterno’s apparent moral turpitude devastated his iconic status. Known as a man of principle, his failure to do the right thing may have cost him his legacy.

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“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said.

Tragic events are never isolated occurrences; one catastrophe leads to another.

The demise of Paterno’s reputation overshadows the heinous act of child molestation. The commentary, news and student demonstrations supporting Paterno tell me that the real tragedy, the true catastrophe, is that the destruction of nine children becomes incidental to Penn State’s debacle.

Where is the passion for the children, the true victims of this scandal? The danger in the cult-of-personality dynamic of college sports is that perspective gets warped. Coaches and athletes become larger than their sport. Those who’ve held vigils for Paterno, those who’ve kneeled in supplication to support him, and those who never spoke up perpetuate this tragedy.

Eldridge Cleaver tells us, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Let me leave you with a story that happened in the Bronx in the early ’60s.

Vinnie, a guy in the neighborhood, got his kicks performing lewd acts in front of children. One Saturday afternoon Frankie, a local thug with Mafia ties, was holding court with his wise guys in Al’s Barbershop. I was there, vying for Frankie's attention, feeling tough.

The mother of a young girl barged into Al’s, screaming hysterically. Vinnie had just molested her daughter. She had been to the police, but there was no evidence. There never was with Vinnie.

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