“We want Joe Pa!” chant the Penn State student body as one. “One more game! Fuck the media!” This after Penn State fired head football coach Joe Paterno for, allegedly, not reporting a sexual assault on a child years earlier. The students scream and take out their rage on the media they claim are turning their beloved coach into a villain; they trash their own campus and tip over a news van.
Amid the rioters, the most noticeable image is that of hundreds of cell phones capturing the action going on around them. The students run up to each other and news cameras, making faces and screaming at each other, almost as though they are performing for whoever might be watching. Undoubtedly they are about to be immortalized in Facebook and YouTube videos, and they are ready for their close up.
In a separate video, aired by ABC’s Good Morning America, Paterno, 84, stands outside his house, his arm around his wife, smiling at the press and a gathering of students. He waves them off playfully and tells them to get back to their studies. As he puts it, “we all have more important things to do.”
Granted, Paterno is not that man accused of sexually assaulting eight boys over 15 years. That would be Jerry Sandusky, who reportedly first came into contact with the minors in question through his charitable organization, The Second Mile, a group home for troubled boys. However, Paterno is accused of being the man that was told this was going on and did nothing. One wonders if he would have swept this under the rug if his own child had been the one being sexually assaulted in the shower by then-assistant coach Sandusky.
When reporters asked the rioting students how they felt about the victims, most answered that they felt for them but then immediately turned and continued to chant their support for the man who indirectly silenced them. ABC News, Good Morning America and other news outlets reported that there were, in fact, students who did not agree with the riots and felt that Joe Pa got what he deserved, but that they were too afraid to appear on camera.
One young man runs up to a reporter and spits out, “You guys keep calling him a legend, treat him like a legend!” It makes you wonder if these students even know what they are rioting for. A great man? An arguable point. The victims? Certainly not. A football game? Getting warmer.
The lure of feeling included has always been tempting. There is something very romantic about being a part of something greater than yourself and joining the march for justice. However, it is difficult to zero in on what good is being done by this particular riot. The victims are definitely not benefiting. In fact, the man these students are standing up for is someone who refused to stand up for a child who actually deserved it.
By Bianca Puorto
Follow me on Twitter @bpuorto
N.B.: The quotation used in our headline (“A man is known by the silence he keeps.”) is attributed to 18th century writer Oliver Herford.