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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Was Coach Joe Paterno a Hero?

     America is a nation of heroes. There are tens of thousands of them. On TV, news readers  often refer to all military personnel, law enforcement officers, and firefighters as heroes. There are, of course, true war heroes, brave cops, and heroic firefighters. But all of them? If everybody is a hero, then no one is. In the fields of education, literature, law, science, business, and medicine, there are real heroes, but we seldom hear of them. I guess there are even political heroes, but I can't think of any.

     Most of our "heroes" come out of the entertainment industry--where they are also called icons--and the world of sports. I once knew a successful lawyer who had served in the special forces in Vietnam. Guess who he idolized? John Wayne, a Hollywood actor who played a war hero. Really. How can an actor, even a great one, be a hero?

     Hundreds, if not thousands, of amateur and professional athletes become big heroes, and even legends like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. At least DiMaggio was married to Marylyn Monroe, a film icon who had an affair with a political hero, John F. Kennedy. I don't understand what it is about great athletes that makes them heroes. I understand the fame and the wealth, even fan adulation. But heroes?

     In America, even coaches can become heroes. In a town near my home, a high school football coach who was in his 90s recently died. His life story dominated the local newspaper for at least three days. You'd think he had cured cancer, or had saved the world from Hitler. He was a high school football coach.

     Penn State football Coach Joe Paterno was a super-hero to millions of sports fans. His supporters liked to point out that he had donated a lot of money to the university library, and other good causes.  Plenty of rich people give their money away, but they are not considered heroes. They are just paying their fair share. Joe Paterno was not hero because he made a huge salary and was generous. He was a hero because his teams won a lot of football games, and brought glory to Penn State. He was supposedly a leader of men.

     Coach Joe Paterno died last January, and before his death, experienced something few Penn State fans could ever have imagined--he got fired! Why? Because the board of trustees didn't think he had showed leadership and courage in the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal. About half of the Penn State fandom is still furious over this black mark on Paterno's legend.

     Simply doing the right thing doesn't make one a hero. But if Joe Paterno hadn't turned a blind eye to sexual molestation going on under his nose, children may have been protected, his career wouldn't have ended in disgrace, and his fans would have an untarnished hero.

UPDATE

     A poll released on Friday, March 16, shows that 46 percent of the 1,300 Pennsylvanians questioned favor renaming Beaver Stadium Joe Paterno Stadium. The survey also found 40 percent opposed to the idea. The name change was more strongly supported by people who described themselves "very or somewhat interested" in college football." The proposal was also backed by people over 65. 

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