"The Sad Story of Joe Paterno"

By Connie Robillard


The headlines read:  Riots break out at Penn State: Joe Paterno fired as head coach.  After a 61 year career this 84 year old man will leave Penn State in disgrace.


College students are overturning cars in response to the firing of this college legend. And it does  seem  on the surface to be so unfair. People are confused and outraged at the college board’s decision to fire Joe Paterno, the football hero.


The boys, their terror, their pain is pushed into the background. No one is overturning cars on behalf of the young boys who are the victims.  In fact the outraged fans of Joe Paterno  barely remember the children who were raped at Penn State.


Why?  Our human minds cannot wrap around the long term ramifications of child abuse.


Our minds do what I call – “Fast Forwarding.”  A form of amnesia – “let’s pretend I didn’t hear that, see that, know that…..with an inner silent plea of make it stop and make it all go away.  Focusing on Joe Paterno’s firing keeps everyone from thinking about those boys and about the man who raped them.


Joe Petrouno’s career was outstanding. He was a hero to many and from most accounts loved and a good guy. Yet he will walk out of Penn State in shame not for what he did but for what he failed to do. Stand up for children.  Instead he didn’t think about it. His gut instinct was to protect himself by not getting involved.


His crime is – he failed to ring the alarm on a friend and colleague maybe because it was too much trouble.  A part of him wanted it all to go away or for someone else to take a stand or even just let it go by.


He failed to take child abuse seriously.  As a result he allowed child abuse to continue at Penn State in a program designed to help children.


Joe Paterno also failed his friend, the pedophile and addict. 


Our central internal alarms have to be reset. We cannot allow people we care about to hurt others.


The saddest part of this story is Joe Paterno could have been a hero. He could have set an example of what a real man can do to save children. His career would have ended with a Superman story on and off the field.  It was ignorance that kept that from happening - He simply didn’t get the magnitude of damage that was happening to those young boys – not just for the day in the shower with a man who was acting like a monster but for the rest of those boys’ lives.  He brushed it off as unimportant, a passing moment and then he forgot it.


What is worse than being abused? Knowing someone knew and did nothing to help. In fact in this case – several people knew, passed the news like a hot potato and no one acted. 


I continue to hold the hope that education is the key. If every high school, college student and staff member were mandated to take a course on child abuse and its long term effects, this may never have happened. Our brains are trained to remember fire drills and what to do in case of emergency.  Together we can spread the word about child abuse, learn to act, rather than keep the secret because it will make big waves and it looks ugly. Yet, hope can shine bright, illuminate the lives of these boys – Penn State could have been a shining star and a good example to many. Instead, tarnished and beyond repair – the school goes down in history as yet one more place where children are used and abused.


Cultivating Hope With Abuse Survivors accompanied with the DVD Common Threads-  are the educational tools your students need to learn to act on behalf of children.  Use it as part of an ethics class, use it as an educational unit. This is a valuable tool.


Sexual abuse is the largest growing crime in the world and yet, people continue to live in disbelief and ignorance. They freeze, go numb and fail to act. Help children by educating the adults who surround them. Keep children safe.




NH Counseling Association


Certified IFS Therapists

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors


Connie Robillard, MA


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