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How Joe Paterno's Silence In The Face Of Abuse Led To His Stunning Fall From Grace

Updated 6 Apr 2019 4.3k views12 items

Joe Paterno developed a cult of personality during his decades-long reign as the head coach of Penn State's prestigious football program. He was admired by football and Penn State-loving Americans across the country. For athletes and fans at Penn State, Paterno wasn't just a coach; he was a rare bridge between academics and athletics, and he and his wife donated millions of dollars to various organizations and the school itself.

But it's sometimes too easy to turn a blind eye to the ones you love. Paterno turned a blind eye to illegal actions by his right-hand man, Jerry Sandusky, and in turn, Penn State — and football-loving America at large — almost let them get away with it.

HBO's 2018 film Paterno (starring Al Pacino) explores the slow unraveling that came with Paterno's silence toward injustice. In what is now known as the "Penn State child sex abuse scandal," assistant football coach Sandusky used his power and connections to a charity organization to gain access to minors whom he assaulted and abused for 15 years, sometimes in the locker rooms of Penn State. He was charged with more than 50 counts of sexual abuse and ultimately found guilty, though he has maintained his innocence. 

Paterno allegedly knew about all of this, but took no action. Despite being tenured and nearing the end of a long and illustrious career, the 84-year-old was fired in disgrace only a year before his death from lung cancer. Once celebrated as one of the most successful coach in the history of college football, Paterno's fall from grace is a tragic reminder of what can happen when one stays silent about abuse. 

Despite its ubiquity in the States, tipping is not actually an American invention. It was first practiced in feudal Europe (roughly 800-1400 CE), and was rooted in the extensive aristocratic history of the continent.

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