Archived Story

Joe Paterno: Hero, Idol, or Human

Published 1:18pm Tuesday, January 24, 2012

   Penn State coach Joe Paterno has passed away and now people are left in wonder on how he should be looked upon now and for years to come. He has been an iconic figure not only inPenn State history but all of college football history. He has putPennStateon the map and the majority of his players loved him and respected him like a father.

    So why all the confusion on how to remember him? It comes down to where some people think he didn’t go far enough in reporting child abuse from one of his former assistant coaches. He reported something he heard second hand to his superiors but didn’t follow up or report it to the police. This, as a matter of public opinion, was a crime worth losing his job over.

    JoePa was a Hero to some and an Idol to others and now all that is in question. In today’s society, and especially in the media, we tend to use the word Hero and Idol a little too much. I’m not sure of the reason but it may come from the Vietnam War era when our troops came home and weren’t treated very well as they took the blame for an unjust war when all they were doing was what they were told. As a country I think we still feel a great amount of guilt over their treatment and now we want to make up for it. Another reason the words Hero and Idol are used more is that the media and people in general need or want a good story and a little drama. Every thing in our current society seems to be bigger and better and so our Heroes and Idols are bigger, better, and more plentiful.

    I am not putting down all the people who have done extraordinary things as they should be commended for things they have done but we should not forget that they are people and human beings just like us and at any given time we too can do something extraordinary too.

    Sport throws the words Hero and Idol around a lot which is the arena that JoePa fits in. My sports Idol growing up was Harmon Killebrew who was a great role model but after he retired he had a lot of money trouble and was divorced. Kirby Puckett was everyone’s Hero in Minnesota but after he retires accusations of domestic abuse and another incident in a bar tarnished his career. Mickey Mantle was an icon not only in New York but just about the whole country even after he was known to party and drink too much.

    I looked up the words Hero and Idol on an online dictionary. Hero: “A person of distinguished courage, or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Has heroic qualities or as performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.” Idol: Besides being a false god and idol is; “One that is adored, often blindly or excessively. Something visible without substance”

    In my opinion the definition of a Hero has very little to do with sports and it would be very hard for someone to be one. Someone may do something courageous and performed a great deed requiring bravery but the last part of being regarded as a model or ideal, as a human, would be difficult. So maybe throwing the word Hero on somebody is not only the wrong thing to do but may not be fair to the one who has been bestowed the honor. It is a lot to live up too.

    After hearing the definition of the word Idol I’m not sure we want to throw that one around much either. It seems to be a negative thing more than a positive with false, blindly or excessive, and without substance in the definition. Although this may describe a lot of people thought of as Idols.

    People who have done something courageous or have done something worth while should be commended but maybe they should not be labeled something they are not. If I do something special or acted courageously and people want to recognize that, it will be fine, but one act of courage doesn’t erase some of the stupid things I have done in my life or things I regretted doing or not doing. I am not perfect because I am human so thank me when I have done well but don’t make me better than I am.

    JoePa has done a lot of great things for Penn State and one bad decision in his life should not erase all of that. So now that he has passed the people of Penn State  should celebrate his life and thank him for all the years of service to the school and all he has done for it. Just don’t put a label on him and make him out to be anything more than just what he is a human being.

  • Tracy Mitchell

    Very thoughtful post. A lot to think about. I believe that the current tarnish on Paterno’s reputation will prove to be fairly temporary. I am more struck by Penn State’s institutional response than I am to Paterno’s transgression. Of course Paterno should have followed up. And the wrongfulness of his non-action is not lessened by the fact that he was not the lone ranger on that. But seriously, the speed at which the Penn State regime circled the wagons was breath taking. They fired Paterno for institutional reasons that had nothing to do with protecting kids or protecting the program from Paterno. Their sole focus seemed to be to protect the image of the hollowed institution that over the years, Paterno did much to build. If Kobe, Gingrich and Tyson can crawl their personas back from the garbage pit, then Paterno affectionados have no worries.

    When I was a kid Sid Hartman did an interview a day on WCCO with an athlete and the show was called “Sports Hero”. Even if the word “sports” doesn’t always precede the word “hero”, I think everyone understands that athletes are not real heroes in the proper sense. They can be good role models, at least as to sportsmanship, etc.

    I do like the way you fleshed out the concept of “icon”. Perhaps most sports heroes should be more properly called icons. Like my hero Derek Jeter?

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