After 85-years of life, Joseph Vincent Paterno moved on to a place where he didn’t make the fatal mistake that coaching could ever undo. He passed away from complications of lung cancer on January 22. But without Penn State, where he spent more than half his life, he lost the ability to fight as he suffered badly from a broken heart and left the earth without knowing the fate of his legacy.
He passed after spending 61 years of coaching at Penn State University and college football fans across the nation knew his final day was nearing. Joe Paterno, better known as JoePa to his Penn State family, also knew that his days were numbered. He had been working for so long it was believed he would either retire or die while coaching the game he avidly loved; whichever came first. As comical as that notion seems, Paterno wouldn’t have had it any other way.
It was all but certain that that he would pass on and leave behind an unattainable legacy with his career accomplishments serving as inspiration and goals that would never be touched.
But it is truly amazing how one decision can erase an entire lifetime of work.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last three months, sports fan or not, you have undoubtedly heard of what has become known as the “Penn State scandal” or the “Sandusky case.” These refer to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal in which Sandusky was indicted by a federal grand jury on over 40 counts of child sex abuse.
When it was announced that Paterno was a secondary-witness to one of Sandusky’s abuse instances, his future status was put into question. Paterno was fired days after the grand jury released their report back in early November.
The immediate speculation was that without “We are Penn State” chants in his life that Paterno’s life after football would be short lived. And sure enough, weeks after his release from the program, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The biggest question immediately surfaced all over again: What will be JoePa’s legacy?
The truth is we live in a world where sports come first more often than it should. At times the title student-athlete, a term derived to describe a college athlete who is a student first and an athlete second, is flip-flopped and consequently academia takes a back seat. Furthermore the Monday after the Super Bowl has become infamous for the biggest hooky day of the year.
Fortunately, the line was drawn when one of the biggest scandals of the last decade surfaced three months ago.
The first thing to be said is that Penn State’s decision to fire Paterno was absolutely justified. Any person who leads others and holds his mentees to a high standard must do the right thing in return. On all accounts, failure to report abuse is abuse and in that regard, Paterno was just as guilty as anyone who possesses knowledge of a criminal act and then chooses not to follow through.
But life and sports are two completely separate issues. The NCAA has not and will not take any action on Penn State because in no way did the scandal affect the team or any of its accomplishments.
By simple virtue of those two statements being true, Paterno’s legacy from a football and humanitarian standpoint should not be harmed. Due to the poor decisions that he made almost a decade ago, his name will forever carry around a blemish to his otherwise immaculate career.
His resume includes high points such as his 24 bowl wins, two FBS National Championships and 409 wins in 46 seasons as head coach. He helped raised 13.5 million dollars for the library that is now commemorated in his honor, and he and his wife donated four million dollars to help improve Penn State campus and its surrounding areas.
The mistakes of Joe Paterno “the person” are inexcusable. The dozens of children that had their lives changed as a result of his failure to report a crime will likely never be forgotten in the public eye and shouldn’t be.
But Joe Paterno “the football coach” educated thousands of football minds in life and in sports and the College Football Hall of Fame judges honorees by their performance on the field.