By Jason Keidel
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The duality of our nation can spawn complex fruit. It is our freedom, which we so savor, that allowed me to work my second job this morning, and then slither into a dark theater to see “Dark Knight Rises,” fully unaware that such a gleeful escape doubled as crucible of murder in Colorado.
These freedoms imbued us with fervor for football, which imbued Joe Paterno with titanic power. He used it to harbor a serial child rapist. And now, the last vestige of the mythologizing of “JoePa” – a statue on the campus he called home for six decades – is about to be torn down, according to Kim Jones, citing an anonymous source.
It is the right call. Public sentiment trumped private vanity. But like every lens that exposed some sickening dysfunction over the last ten months, this one had to be forced upon the warped sensibilities of Penn State, and those who still inexplicably hold Paterno in high regard.
What the remaining minions fail to realize is that anything named after the fallen icon, from statues to libraries, sends a chill down America’s spine. And every time someone, like Bill James – who really should stick to baseball – speaks even obliquely in Paterno’s favor, it italicizes the disease of worship, the sick synapse of groupthink. They are obdurate to the end, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the man is worthy of this idolatry.
As long as some pocket of Penn State’s campus serves as an echo chamber for the horde mentality, there can be no real healing. Indeed, even the slightest mention of Paterno in a cuddly cadence widens the chasm between the world at large and the collective denial of his surviving acolytes. Unfortunately, the most vocal minority represents those who don’t deify anyone associated with the Sandusky horror.
The entire purpose of statues is symbolism, an emblem of an ethos. In Paterno’s case, he represented a flawless hybrid of the student-athlete, fierce on the field and equally voracious in the classroom, the young man you want your son to duplicate and daughter to marry. By proxy or proximity, the Nittany Lion was noble, nimble, and wrapped in Paterno’s nimbus.
But it was all a mirage, as surreal or unreal as we can fathom. On some level we are conditioned to the corruption of college athletics. Indeed, we’ve become so comfortably numb to the twisted machinations of big-business football that we’ve almost given a free pass to payoffs and other privileges, a blue-chip stud getting his cut for his part in the machine, where well-heeled boosters run the show as much as any professor, administrator, or coach.
And if that’s all Paterno had done – turn a blind eye to the white-collar crime inevitable on any monetary minefield – his legacy would shine as though his statue were polished hourly. But we know otherwise.
Sadly, it seems there will be more football games at Penn State this summer and fall, as though the Sandusky atrocities never occurred. At least everything that can be done is being done outside the sidelines. Sandusky is in prison, Paterno is disgraced, and the rest of the criminal quartet that served as a buffer between Sandusky’s crime wave and the law should spend some time in an orange jumpsuit. None of it is commensurate to the pain he perpetrated, but it’s all part of our perilous republic, where we’re almost equally free to be good or evil.
The statue was an essential order of business, a transaction that held more metaphysical meaning than tackles, points, wins and financial windfalls. Even on the sunniest Saturdays in Happy Valley will have a shadow, a reminder from above of what happened below.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com