“You’re our hero,” read a sign at a statue of the late government university 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 who 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 by the state.
The governor, Tom Corbett, instead ordered state flags to fly at half-staff. Joe Paterno, an employee of Penn State 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 university 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,” Paterno told the Washington Post about his actions in his final interview. So, he made a mistake and he did so at a place for higher learning at taxpayers’ expense, 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. Facts about Sandusky’s alleged crimes and Paterno’s related knowledge and actions are still being discovered. But, increasingly, sports spectators worship thugs, not heroes, as pro hockey team owner Mario Lemieux observed when he threatened to quit. Given what is known, Paterno worship is more of the same.
Another non-hero is, like Paterno, a government employee. Her name is Gabrielle Giffords, the stricken Arizona congresswoman who was shot and survived an 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 being shot makes her a crime victim, not a heroine, and the lack of representation for Americans deserving full, congressional representation diminishes whatever heroic qualities she possesses.
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, the outrage ought to be that Americans are submitted to the tyranny of unconstitutional restrictions on travel and association every day. That a politician is affected, too, is more of the same and any decent politician would use his detainment as an opportunity to push for abolishing the government agency.
Praise for non-heroes as heroes trivializes the concept of heroism. Glorifying these three government workers—Coach Paterno, Congresswoman Giffords, Senator Paul—redounds to anti-hero worship. Heroes—men such as Andrew Carnegie, Steve Jobs and John Lewis—are examples of man at his best, not at his mixed or mediocre. Hero-worshippers know the difference.