Paterno family needs to stop living in denial
by Gary Huerta
I have a few questions to ask…
Why does a seven foot bronze statue of Joe Paterno still adorn the Penn State campus while university officials consider whether or not to take it down? Why do the bronze letters behind the likeness of Paterno brazenly spell out: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.
What was actually going through Joe Paterno’s head when he walked by that statue? Considering the amount of denial he now seemed capable of, I’d say he believed his own hype.
As for me, I flip flop between wanting to give Sandusky’s victims the opportunity to take a blowtorch to the statue and wanting it to remain up so that we may forever have a lifelike image of what “Ultimate Betrayal and Complicity” looks like.
Pathetically yet with no surprise to me, Paterno’s family has gone on the record to vehemently disagree with the findings that condemned their family patriarch.
”Our interest has been and remains the uncovering of the truth,” the family said in a statement on the Freeh Report, which came down upon Joe Paterno’s legacy like a sledgehammer on a cantaloupe a little over one week ago.
The first sentence of the report states, “The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.” It further identified that four of the most powerful people at the university, including revered head football coach Joe Paterno, failed to protect a child against a sexual predator who harmed children for over a decade, and that these men concealed Sandusky’s activities, thus exhibiting a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims.
”Mr. Freeh presented his opinions and interpretations as if they were absolute facts,” said Paterno’s family in their statement.
It is to this denial that I’d like to provide my own expert commentary.
The Paterno family isn’t the least bit interested in uncovering the truth. They are only concerned with perpetuating the denial and deception of the facts of this terrible situation. They want nothing more than to discredit a carefully researched, unbiased, 267-page document that proves Joe Paterno was an absolute phony and a man more interested in his own success than the safety of children.
Why do I feel qualified to render a damning verdict with such conviction?
Approximately 18 months ago, I wrote a column about my experience being sexually abused as a child. I did so after discovering one out of every six men has been sexually abused.
Twenty-five years before writing my column, I told a female member of my family about my sexual abuse, not because I wanted to reveal my own story to anyone, but because I genuinely feared for the safety of another family member, who was now approximately my age and within proximity of my abuser.
Her response at the time was exactly like that of Joe Paterno and other members of Penn State University. Do nothing, say nothing. Pretend it didn’t happen and maybe it will go away. Confused by her lack of empathy and request to keep the matter concealed, I complied. Until last year, when I decided it was time to unburden myself in my column in hopes of healing myself and helping other men realize they weren’t alone.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that victims of sexual abuse are often made to feel like they are somehow responsible for the anxiety others feel when they have to confront the issue. Just look at how Paterno’s family is so unwilling to accept the truth.
In my case, my family decided to vilify me for standing up publicly and acknowledging that sexual abuse could occur in our family. Instead of believing me, they called me a liar. The very same family member I had confided in 25 years ago filed a meritless restraining order against me. They held a family meeting without me so that those whom I accused could deny any wrongdoing and discredit me. One family member responded by saying she could not get involved. Another accused me of doing it to gain literary notoriety. To this day, they remain oblivious, unable to move beyond how the abuses that happened to me makes them feel uncomfortable and betrayed.
The hard reality of sexual abuse is that those who deny and cover it up are a huge part of the problem. As President Obama once said, “Evil thrives when those who do good stand around and do nothing.”
Regardless of Joe Paterno’s record on the football field, he deserved to be fired for not acting with integrity at a critical time when he should have. Those victims needed someone to stand up for them and they got no help. Worse still are the victims who could have avoided such trauma had the matter been dealt with years ago.
Joe Paterno’s family is only perpetuating the problem by insisting that it is all somehow a conspiracy of misinformation. They are truly getting in the way of the victims’ opportunity to heal.
To them, my own family and any others who act as enablers to people doing wrong to others let me say clearly… Stop being part of the problem. Wake up. Accept the reality.
Finally, even though there are so many negatives involved with this story, I do see a chance for all of us to learn from the mistakes of others. The sexual abuse of boys isn’t limited to other places and other people. Statistics show it happens everywhere, including places where higher learning is supposed to be the standard. Because of the shame involved, men are not forthcoming in admitting they have been sexually abused. When they do step forward, it’s because they want to find some resolution. They aren’t looking for public recognition or fame — trust me on this.
We all have a moral obligation to speak up when we personally know someone is being or has been abused. Does it matter whether you are a sister or the most respected football coach in all the land? No.
The bottom line is if you are willing to do nothing for years and then issue an obligatory mea culpa as a way of making amends when you are caught, you should be forced to stand up in public and answer this one basic question: “How did you live with yourself all those years?”
To be sure, that is the one thing I’d like to ask that special member of my family who has denied the truth for 25 years.