BLOG: Statue of Shame

Joe Paterno statue

The license plates were worn. Bent in half and tucked securely in the back corner of our family room bookcase. They were hardly decorative art but they served a purpose; reminding my dad of the frustration. The fury. The disappointment. The latest in a string of incidents involving a less-than-responsible family member. Too many years have passed for me to recall the specifics but I know those plates were a reminder. The last straw. Taken off of the car that had mysteriously disappeared from our driveway because of that family member’s deviance. The proverbial finger, wagging in my father’s face. Be wary, they whispered. Fool me once…

That scenario streaked across my mind as I was processing the latest developments out of Happy Valley. I tsk’ed as I read reports of students guarding the Joe Paterno statue. To discourage or I suppose, if necessary, inhibit the outraged masses from bulldozing the bronze immortalization of someone we now know was incredibly mortal. Flawed. Conflicted. Cowardly. Wrong.

I’ve been somewhat vocal about my position thus far. “Take down the G-D statue.” I tweeted the morning the Freeh report was delivered. Now I’m not so sure.

We’re not so much a forgiving society as we are a forgetting society. Maybe it’s the 24-hour news cycle or our countless priorities limiting our ability to consume but we seem to move on rather quickly these days. To the next scoop or story or scandal. We feverishly crank out reaction and rebuttal, then methodically replace that outrage or awe with the next. Always the next. Scavenging for next.

Forgive me for my cement shoes but I don’t want to forget about Penn State’s grievances yet. I don’t want to seemingly dismiss the university’s inaction because we’re distracted by the next shiny, scintillating story. Some will argue that attitude inhibits the healing. I contend moving on prematurely, turning the page too soon and signifying PSU’s 15 minutes of infamy are up stints it significantly more.

And I now wonder if removing the Paterno statue might do just that. Space between. Out of sight out of mind. That guy? Who was THAT guy? We don’t even know him. Do you see any evidence that he existed, reigned or abused his power here? Sure don’t.

It’s not the reason the Paterno apologists offer for preserving the piece but maybe you keep the damned thing there after all. A Scarlet Letter of shame, admission and maybe even apology. A reminder to all who cross the corridor that at one point, this environment allowed such enabling. Our hierarchy, priorities and loyalties got so mixed up, that people – too many innocent people suffered needlessly for the sake of a program. Under Paterno’s watch.

Too often we’re programmed to erase or remove the painful parts. Subconscious self-preservation. Delete a phone number. Set fire to photos. Switch cities or scenery to escape the ache. Or the failure. Or the misstep. But what do we learn from that? How to hide? How to successfully navigate the PG version of our lives? How wonderful everything is – so long as we’ve torn down and hidden away that which represents the crap that caused strife and sadness?

I’m beginning to think we all could use a standing reminder like the Paterno statue. A solid slap upside the head that people – even those we idolize, erect statues to, name buildings after and celebrate are flawed. Sometimes fatally. And you can forgive if that’s your thing. But don’t forget. Don’t move on. Don’t allow something like this to happen again just because too much time has passed and you can’t recall what all the fuss was about.

You couldn’t do that with a 900-pound likeness still standing in a corner of the campus. You’d be forced to be conscious and cautious. Wary and wise. Much like the license plates my dad displayed to signify betrayal, irresponsibility and error in judgment, the statue should stay. So people see it, discuss it and remember what it represents. And avoid that “fool me twice” shame. 

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