After the passing of Joe Paterno last Saturday, I have, along with many others, thought about the legacy of the man who was arguably the best college football coach of all time. As everyone knows, all of that changed recently as the Penn State scandal has rocked the sports world leaving so many questions about the man who lead the team for the last 46 years. The ending was quick and tragic for Paterno. On November 5, 2011, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts relating to sexual abuse of eight young boys over a 15-year period, including alleged incidents that occurred at Penn State. Four days later, Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees, roughly 12 hours after the legendary coach announced his own retirement at the end of the season. Shortly thereafter it was revealed that Paterno was being treated for lung cancer, his health took a quick turn for the worse, eventually taking his life on January 22, 2012.
So what is Joe Pa’s legacy? How does the sad end of his coaching career and his life affect this legacy? The answers are unclear. At his best he was a larger-than-life figure in State College Pennsylvania. Joe Paterno WAS Penn State University. He gave millions of dollars back to the school, and made millions more at speaking engagements across the country. He was a fatherly, and then a grandfatherly figure to his athletes who adored him. Paterno was never accused of breaking NCAA rules and his players always graduated at exceptionally high rates. Paterno had a hand in the rise of Penn State's academic standing as well. A library on campus was named in his honor. In the corrupt world of college football, with illegal recruiting and agents and powerful alumni attempting the circumnavigate the rule book wherever possible for the sake of winning games, there was Penn State, graduating players, playing by the rules and winning games, the right way. That is how I want to remember JoePa, a Brown Grad, a fellow Italian-American I could be proud of, someone who stood for all that was right with college athletics, but of course it all went horribly wrong.
The unspeakable crimes committed at Penn State by Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky have been well documented. The thing that I can’t get past is that they happened over a FIFTEEN YEAR PERIOD!! So as the program was being lauded for all its good, these heinous crimes were being committed and JOE KNEW. If the whole situation wasn’t tragic enough, people at Penn State knew and did not take action. JoePa stated he didn’t know what to do. The man with all the answers had none when he needed them most. The crimes were of the worst kind, nothing could seem to make it worse, until news of the cover-up, which makes it an absolute tragedy. From where I sit, his legacy is one of disgrace, as much good as he did at Penn State, his lack of action is what he will be remembered for. I want to remember him for the good he did, I really do. I want to think of him as a role model coach and mentor, but I can’t. I wish Joe had just ridden of into the sunset, as it is he hung on too long as coach. He was just a figurehead in the end. But now he won’t even be remembered for the coach who hung on too long and failed to ride off into the sunset, on the shoulder of his players, after one last final victory in front of a community who adored him. He will be remembered as the coach WHO KNEW, and who did nothing about it. The legacy died. Shortly thereafter, Joe died with it.
Joe Paterno 1926-2012