“You’re our hero,” read a sign at a statue of the late government-college football coach Joe Paterno, who died on Sunday at the age of 85. But Paterno, who by his own admission sidestepped, ignored or evaded allegations of child rape, is not a hero. He was a football coach at a state college and he made crucial errors of judgment which, by the kindest interpretation of his involvement, which was under investigation, may have aided or abetted serious crimes against children. Nevertheless, government-financed Penn State declared that it will hold a public memorial service, where signs, photography and video will be forbidden.
The governor, Tom Corbett, ordered state flags to fly at half-staff. Joe Paterno, an employee of the college for 61 years who by most accounts did his job and coached football better than most, does not in my estimation deserve the accolades. He worked for a well-respected college and his primary responsibility was to teach students and provide an example and, whatever the outcome of the charges against his former colleague, Jerry Sandusky, whom I think is guilty, he failed. “I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he told the Washington Post about his actions in his final interview. So, he made a mistake and did so at a place for higher learning on the taxpayers’ dime, which, while it does not make him a monster, makes Paterno a non-hero and undeserving of worship by people in the Keystone State and everywhere else. We don’t yet have all the information about Sandusky’s alleged crimes or Paterno’s actions, but, increasingly, sports spectators worship thugs, not heroes, as pro hockey team owner Mario Lemieux said when he threatened to quit. Given what we do know, Paterno worship is more of the same.
Another non-hero is also a government employee. Her name is Gabrielle Giffords, the stricken Arizona congresswoman who was shot and survived in a lunatic’s attack in Tucson, Arizona, last year. It was a good call for her to quit, as she recently announced, though it would have been better had she done it sooner. Her district has essentially been without representation since she was injured in a terrible tragedy in which lives were lost. It is a representative’s job to serve the republic and represent constituents and she should have quit her job months ago. Instead, Congresswoman Giffords, too, is being treated as some sort of heroine. I am sure there are millions of Americans like me who are sorry she was shot and wish her well. But it doesn’t make her a heroine or excuse the lack of representation for Americans who deserve full, congressional representation during the nation’s darkest times since the Depression.
A third government non-hero, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a Christian libertarian son of a GOP presidential candidate, was detained earlier today by the TSA for refusing a government-dictated security pat-down. While Sen. Paul exercised his individual rights and I hope (and doubt) his act of civil disobedience encourages people to act to kill the TSA, Matt Drudge’s red-colored headline, “TSA DETAINS U.S. SENATOR”, should read: TSA DETAINS U.S. CITIZEN. The outrage is that Americans are submitted to the tyranny of unconstitutional restrictions on travel and association every day. That a politician is affected, too, should be of no concern to anyone except the politician. Any decent politician would use the detainment as an opportunity to build support for a law abolishing the government agency.
Because praise for non-heroes trivializes the concept of heroism, glorifying these three government workers – Coach Paterno, Congresswoman Giffords, Senator Paul – redounds to anti-hero worship. Real heroes are those who consistently live life at their best; men such as Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs and John Lewis. Real hero-worshippers refuse to raise a glass to mediocrity. They know the difference.