Sunday, November 13, 2011

Joe Paterno and the Cult of Personality

I am not a football fan. I have not posted anything on this blog about the Penn State debacle simply because there is no way I can be objective about it. I lived there for thirteen years and really came to loath the town and the university. I belonged to the same parish as the Paternos, whom I have never met. I had some wonderful friends in town, as well as some people I tried to avoid, as I wrote in my post called "Mass with the Borgias," saying:
One morning while getting ready for church, I braced myself  knowing that I would indubitably run into  those who have tried to hurt my family by word and deed. I was comforted by the thought that Mass is a microcosm of the Last Judgment: everyone will be there, good and evil, whether we like it or not...there is just no way to avoid it, since presence will be required. Remembering the eschatological dimension of Mass will get one through anything. A friend reminded me of the words of St. Thomas Aquinas from Lauda Sion: Sumunt boni, sumunt mali: sorte tamen inaequali, vitae vel interitus. ("Both the wicked and the good eat of this celestial Food: but with ends how opposite!")
That is pretty much the gist of my feelings for State College, PA. From what I have come to know about the place, I was not at all surprised to hear about the terrible allegations and how they were covered up for so long. Everyone should read the Grand Jury report to see how serious those allegations really are. Read it, HERE.

In the meantime, an article at Open Salon says it all:
Wikipedia states that the “cult of personality”, most often associated with dictatorships,  arises “when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioned flattery and praise.”  Here, the machine that created the myth of Joe Paterno was not simply Paterno himself, but those around him that made him larger than life.  And it was those people who sought to protect the treasure that was Paterno, and to hide the allegations surrounding Sandusky, and Paterno’s possible association with concealing his actions, as best as possible. Now, it is the kids, those who have grown up revering Paterno, that are having difficulty coming to grips with the reality that Paterno, the legend, is simply Paterno, the man.

 It is the same “cult”-like atmosphere and beliefs that we have seen time and again. While not comparing Paterno to any of the following people (so no inferences should be drawn by this list), it is the same reverence that caused people to kill for Charles Manson. It is the same reverence that caused people to commit mass suicide for Reverend James Jones. It is the same reverence that caused people to fight the ATF, to their deaths, for David Koresh. And yes, as set forth by many on these pages and others over the past few days, it is the same reverence that makes people hold their clergy in such high esteem that they appear infallible.
 Several have compared this situation to the Catholic Church, with its insular nature and overwhelming passion for protecting the institution of the church, especially over the last decade with respect to sex scandals eerily similar to the one currently gripping Penn State. It is not limited to the Catholic Church, however. I serve on the Board of Directors of my Temple. At times, there are issues raised as to our Rabbi’s failure to do something that he was to do, or of some other problem with his performance. Yet even when such actions or inactions are clear and uncontested, and no matter how slight or severe they may be, there are still those on our Board, and other congregants, who will make some form of excuse on his behalf, sometimes publically and without any basis for their comments or conclusions. It is blind faith, in its ultimate form. And it is the same blind faith that is causing those Penn State students to riot.
 A friend of mine once explained to me that these “leaders” rely on people who are broken, in some way, for their support. That seems true, as Manson was surrounded by drifters seeking refuge from their lives and a place where they were accepted and loved. The same is true for cult leaders like Jones, Koresh, or Heaven’s Gate leader Marshall Applewhite, who also famously led a group to mass suicide while waiting for the arrival of the Hall-Bopp comet. While “broken” may be too strong a word, perhaps the words “impressionable” or “lost” are better. And students, especially impressionable teenagers away from home for the first time, can easily get drawn into a frenzy, protesting for a cause that they neither understand or have even tried to fully digest. (Read entire article.)
It is always painful when an idol is discovered to have clay feet. It is sad that so many innocent people have and will suffer because of the lack of moral courage to stand up to the false god which football has become. Share


Julygirl said...

The 'powers that be' were more into protecting the athletic program and the millions it pulls in more than protecting the little boys. The sad outcome and the irony is that their silence destroyed the very thing they were trying to protect.

Harry "Harrying" Ferrari said...

When sponsors, corporations, politics, athletes, managers. money, PR are mixed together with peoples perversions its no wonder collusion and duplicitous people become about their brand or investments. Unfortunately if policies and procedures weren't followed and instances were deliberately ignored because the influential and untouchable few. Sometimes people in positions of power become corrupted imagine how many other cases remain concealed nationwide? Scary when your hero is a pedo!

The North Coast said...

Sorry to say, but I can't remember a time in this country when sports "heroes" weren't the objects of insane, abject adulation and weren't given a pass for the most atrocious behaviors.

My high school's football coach led a championship football team and because he did, he and his football and baseball teams were doted on by the administration, the male students and a substantial subset of females, the parents, and three generations of alumni.

This guy was forgiven for not only being an obnoxious, sanctimonious pig with disgusting personal habits and poor hygiene, but for his alleged affairs with female students (all underage) and for encouraging the boys on his team to treat girls with contempt. Only the heightened racial sensitivities of the late 60s finally derailed him- he was nailed for refusing to admit the few black students in our school to his team on racial grounds, and forced into retirement.

The worship of sports figures goes far back in history and I'm convinced there must be something genetic to it. I don't like it and don't totally understand it, but it seems really ingrained in the male population, to the point where we divert billions of dollars in tax money to sports venues and further enriching mega-rich team owners on the public dime and at the expense of critical public infrastructure, while elevating the players- guys who usually can't even read and write at a 9th grade level- to the status of demi-gods.

It's sad how at this late date in the human story, we who live in a dazzling technological civilization of incredible comfort and riches given us by intellect, creativity, and civilized values, can still shower adulation and riches far out of proportion to their value on people for the mere possession of really primitive virtues such as physical prowess in men and physical beauty in women. When we can transcend this tendency, we'll have taken the next step in our evolution.

Julygirl said...

I totally agree with everything you say 'Northcoast', and it could not be said better. In spite of our era of technology, a good friend of mine reminded me that we are still the same genus as the Cro Magnon, and apparently still 'hard-wired' like they were/are.

Alice Seidel said...

I've only been saying for years that this total fanatical obsession with all things sports, in this country, is GARBAGE!!!

Exactly what does all this sports-mania do for most of us or our kids? Make us a little more selfish, centered only on ourselves at all costs; make us more competitive, but in what ways?

The fact that a young boy who was supposedly being protected by adults, was so horribly mistreated at their hands, leaves no room for speculation. And there are so many more; I don't think we even know the scope of this whole diaster!

Penn State's football season should be invalidated asap, and all future seasons should be terminated until this whole sordid, filthy affair shows it ugly face for the absolute evil that it is.

"He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. . . and the rich he has sent away empty."
We need look no further than Mary; she always points us to her Son.

Why, oh why, oh why, do we think we know better.

The North Coast said...

James Howard Kunstler was very pithy and eloquent in his condemnation of our fetid sports culture and corrupt, ersatz values in his weekly column published today at I recommend it.

The North Coast said...

Something I wish to add about Kunstler, a caveat.

Please, gentle readers of this polite blog, forgive the title of Kunstler's blog. He's a great writer overall, but that title can be pretty off-putting.