Why Celebrate Joe Paterno?

Joe Paterno’s self-professed grand experiment, to treat major college football players as regular students, created an impressive legacy of Penn State Student Athletes over his coaching career. Paterno’s public image, highlighted by his blending academic (tweed jackets, ties, oxfords, and khakis) and athletic (white sox and black athletic shoes) attire was embraced by the public.

The Joe Paterno I experienced in private as a Penn State graduate assistant football coach was much different. That Joe Paterno was a bully who threatened players and staff, made offensive comments, and twisted bad and manipulative behavior to appear good in the media. Staff and players denounced him. His true behavior, behind closed doors, contradicted his public image. And worse, Paterno’s false appearances, his cognitive dissonance, his power and control, enabled Jerry Sandusky’s evil to flourish.

I know. I am a healthy survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). I am a big advocate of what makes teams and organizations great. The positive aspects of football helped me overcome the abuse and trauma I experienced as a child.

I played on three consecutive undefeated high school state championship teams and was a captain and an all-state player for the top team in NJ as a senior. Also during this senior season, my mother succumbed to her eight-year struggle with Melanoma. Our success allowed me to be recruited by all the Ivy League Universities, Service Academies, and I received several Division One football scholarships. In college I was named to the All-Ivy League Team twice and then had several, failed, NFL tryouts.

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort humans feel when they balance contradictory opinions or manifest behaviors inconsistent with their beliefs. And there’s a lot of that going on right now with Penn State’s decision to honor Joe Paterno this Saturday, September 17.

Penn State alumni and athletes who shared classrooms and victories have every right to celebrate their cherished memories. For me, rather than Celebrate Paterno, I choose to celebrate the great Penn State players and to recognize the impact his deceptive and controlling behavior had on me and others, how he allowed an evil assistant destroy young boys’ souls, and how my disdain for him and power and control dynamics motivate me and others to encourage good people to:

Trust your instincts when sensing or seeing any signs of child abuse. Report this to local authorities. I addressed Sandusky when his lack of boundaries; his pinching, head-locking, and grabbing PSU Football Campers made me uncomfortable. He laughed and said he “just loved kids”. I wish I’d known more about identifying, reporting, stopping, healing from, and overcoming CSA.

Signs a child is being abused and where to seek help

Predator signs and signals

Responding to Child Sexual Abuse

Impact of sexual abuse on a child

Overcoming a bad childhood.

My experience at Penn State

When the Sandusky scandal broke, Paterno and his supporters were in a pivotal position to be true leaders and to exercise the Athenians’ intent for sport; to elevate human thought and conduct and, in turn, to benefit society. They could have made a positive difference, to bring awareness to the vile epidemic of child abuse, to do what Paterno always claimed was most important – to teach and to learn.

They dropped the ball, and with Penn State’s plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Paterno’s first game as head coach on Saturday, it’s a good time to reflect on something that only gets attention when there’s a scandal.

For targets, victims, and survivors of childhood sexual abuse, football season, and any time vulnerable kids are left alone with unsupervised others, offers a variety of threats and triggers and opportunities. I knew Sandusky and when I heard the charges filed against him, read the statements from his victims, and saw his hollow responses in the media, I got sick, and enraged.

I also felt great remorse for not being more aware and protecting his future victims from him. I never saw Sandusky assault a child. His evil was beyond my worst expectations, but there were signs. Since then, I’ve met a survivor Sandusky was molesting while I was on the staff in 1987 and 1988. I wish I’d saved this young man from years of torment.

I know, first hand, the suffering victims experience from this pernicious behavior. I also know pedophiles who assault boys average 150 victims. According to research, in the United States, 1 in 6 boys is sexually molested. Only a very small portion, 6.2%, of all male survivors of CSA choose to repeat the cycle of abuse. However, the majority of child molesters are victims of CSA, derived from this small group. Early intervention is key to stemming this destructive cycle.

This compelled me to do what I could to help vulnerable kids, those involved in abusive relationships, and survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I spoke out to offer support and counsel and to condemn power and control dynamics in organizations, like Penn State, facilitating abuse.

Sexual abuse is not sex. Sex is a consensual act between compatible adult peers. Sexual predators target, abuse, and attempt to control younger, smaller, weaker, poorer, disadvantaged, vulnerable people to fulfill a devious need for power and control, and to destroy. Abuse is the opposite of love.

The following effective processes are intended to free survivors from trauma so they can get started on the good life they have ahead.

First is to share secrets with a licensed, highly regarded, expert in CSA, trauma, and PTSD.

Second, identify cognitive distortions caused by the abuse and associated, negative, behaviors.

Third, in the moment, select new, healthier, responses leading to more positive outcomes, and

Fourth, integrate the new, healthier, sense of self with healthier people and organizations.

These are the steps I, and many others, took to stop abuse and to take ownership and to be empowered to live a healthy and fulfilled life. Unhealthy distortions and responses to abuse are learned when one’s a victimized child. More effective, healthy, responses can be relearned as a mature adult survivor. Peace is possible!

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse can come to realize the truth will set them free. For all, living well is the best revenge!

It's not your fault!

You are not alone!

Healing is possible!

Matt's SB Nation Radio Interview on Honoring Paterno

Matt's Interview on Honoring Paterno with Glenn Clark Radio

Matt Paknis is a senior management consultant with 6 years of college football coaching, ten years of playing football, 5 championship seasons, an MBA, and 25 years of experience working with organizations, athletic teams, and communities to implement tools and practices distinguishing thriving behaviors and performance influenced by great and healthy leaders and teams. Matt serves as Executive Secretary on the Board of Directors of Male Survivor.


Unknown said…
The sense of entitlement among much of the players and coaches is greatly disturbing. They don't see it within themselves, which is the scariest part of it all.
Matt Paknis said…
It' narcissism Robert, rooted in deception and selfishness. Had Paterno been a great man, this evil would have never started. Thanks for your comments. Hope all is well with you.
Bro.Ken said…
Your statistics are correct, which is nice, because most people pull OLD stats for some reason.

However, your statistics about repeating the cycle of abuse and the number of abusers who were abused are very incorrect. A study in 2010 actually showed that only 6.2% of abusers report having been abused themselves.

The "Vampire Myth" keeps many stuck in fear and afraid to come forward purely for fear of people thinking they might hurt someone themselves.
Here's a link to an article from Malesurvivor.org

Matt Paknis said…
Thank you Bro.Ken. Really appreciate this insight. Thought I wrote it wrong as it seemed very high. Please check to see if this is now accurate. Peace, Matt
Bro.Ken said…
Looks good!

I'm also a survivor, and I live rather close to Penn State. So all this hits me pretty hard a times. I hear the excuses and defenses of the cult like fans often. Gotta love triggers.
Matt Paknis said…
Thanks again Bro.Ken.

It actually stated, originally, "only a very small percentage of those who are molested decided to repeat the cycle." Then, an expert made a suggestion I misinterpreted and posted, leading to the inaccurate data. Really appreciate your analysis and insights.

More important, I hope you have the proper support structure in place to deal with this mass deception in State College. If not, please let me know and I can put in touch with some great resources in the State College area.

Peace be with you. Best, Matt
Bro.Ken said…
Sounds good. I need all the help I can get. I live about 45 minutes to an hour from Penn State, and resources for Male Survivors just don't exist. Even my local crisis center doesn't have anything specific for male survivors.
Matt Paknis said…

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