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Good riddance, Joe Paterno

Joe-Paterno coaching

This Sept. 4, 2010 photo shows Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno on the sideline during a game against Youngstown State at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. (AP)

Now we know.  The report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh into the Penn State child sex abuse scandal redefines Joe Paterno as a villain, rather than a hero. 

Paterno, of course, is the late and legendary football coach at Penn State.  He has an unparalleled record of triumphs on the field.  

But as far back as 1998 and 2001 Mr. Paterno knew that Jerry Sandusky, his defensive coordinator, was a sexual predator and did no more than report the incident to other administrators at Penn State, while continuing to work alongside Sandusky.

The Freeh report concludes he did this, along with other administrators, “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity” to the school and, particularly, its football team.

Last month, Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting ten boys.

Before his death, Mr. Paterno stated that he was devastated by these events and wished he had done more to prevent them. Yet, he also dictated the draft of an opinion letter stating that nothing about the events should tarnish the reputation of Penn State football.  

And, you know what?  

That’s all Joe Paterno ever cared about.  

In the end, he was no more and no less than a self-centered narcissist who put his own career success above the protection of children.  He let child rape continue so he could continue to put points on a scoreboard and be carried on the shoulders of his players.

I doubt Joe Paterno ever had any idea of exactly what injuries—from a psychological standpoint—he could have prevented.

As someone who has treated victims of sexual abuse over the last two decades, I could tell him. He could have prevented catastrophic psychological dynamics from unfolding in the lives of victims and their families.

When a child is made to participate in a sex act with an adult, it leads to intense feelings of fear and guilt and betrayal, which can easily color his or her entire existence.

These feelings are often suppressed. Hence, they can crop up in devastating ways later on: in the inability to trust any authority figure, in a tendency to avoid feelings at all, in literally slipping away from reality (dissociating), in attempts to suppress memories and feelings using alcohol and illicit drugs, in attention deficit disorder, in major depression, in sexual disorders and in suicide.

The key to understanding why so much and such severe psychological fallout can attend sexual abuse is that children are simply not equipped emotionally to participate in a romantic or erotic relationship with an adult. Therefore, they are, by definition, being overwhelmed and commandeered for the gratification of a much more powerful individual. 

They are, for all intents and purposes, being psychologically kidnapped, with all the related feelings of powerlessness and impending doom. And for those who cover up those feelings by pretending to have been favored by their abusers, there is always a day of reckoning with the reality that they were only the favorite victims.

Mr. Paterno may have known what it took to win on a football field. He may have known something about courage when facing big men running full tilt toward you, intent on stopping you, but he apparently knew exactly nothing about moral courage, nor how to protect those among us who really need protection. It’s time that we made that distinction plain.

Mr. Paterno taught some young men how to play a game.  And he taught millions how not to be a man.

All of us have things to lose when we take the high road and tell the truth. But that is what defines us on this planet.  And, thank God, many, many people would give up a whole lot to save another person from being humiliated, preyed upon and sexually assaulted.  Many of us should be doing an inventory right this moment of what we are protecting of our fortune or reputation or the status quo, at the expense of the truth.

Joe never got that done. Good riddance, Coach.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at info@keithablow.com.