Joseph Vincent Joe Paterno, December 21, 1926 – January 22, 2012, was an American college football coach who was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years, from 1966 through 2011. | Photo: Archives
Joe Paterno will be remembered. You can't spend 62 years with the same organization in such a high profile position and not expect to be remembered. 2 national titles, 3 Big Ten Conference Championships, 24 Bowl wins; it was a remarkable career. However, there will only be two things that Joe Paterno, down the line, will be remembered for:
- 409 wins, the most in modern college football history; and
- Not pursuing information that would ultimately lead to the molestation of several young boys.
It is not fair to judge a man—both his life and legacy—based on his last days, but as with all aspects of history, so much of what we remember comes down to the last minutes because they are the things we remember most vividly. No one remembers Steve Jobs as a megalomaniacal CEO who was as aggressive as he was innovative. They remember him as a "visionary." In the same regard, most people outside of State College, Pennsylvania will remember Joe Paterno as a man who cared more about the image of his school and team than the well being of a defenseless child.
Paterno is considered by many to be as great a man as he was a coach, and it is a shame that the last days and weeks of his life were mired in controversy and pain, but he had no one to blame but himself. Yes, Jerry Sandusky did the horrible, despicable acts to these boys, but Joe Paterno was informed of this by a graduate assistant, and his decisions in the aftermath of learning that information led to what has transpired now.
Legally, he had absolved himself of his sins. He went to his superiors, informed them of what he'd been told, and hoped that information would go to the authorities. However that hope was not enough. By choosing not to follow up on this, to let it be swept under the rug without further inquiry or going to the authorities himself, he proved to be just as morally bankrupt as Tim Curley and Gary Schultz who are currently under investigation for perjury in regards to this very case.
Much will be said about "Joe Pa" in the coming weeks, and perhaps information will come out that will s
|The true tragedy—the tragedy no one wants to think about—is what happened to those boys.|
how that he tried to do the right thing, but it won't matter. The damage has already been done, and he is unfortunately sentenced to go down in history not as a great leader of men, but as a man incapable of preventing the destruction of innocence in children who had no way out of what happened to them.
People will say that it's a small tragedy how the last weeks of Joe Paterno's life unfolded. And perhaps it is. Graham Spanier—the president of the university—acted quickly and abruptly in separating his school from those surrounding the controversy and perhaps the legendary Paterno didn't deserve the ousting he got. But prestige can only go so far, and while it may not have been the right thing to do, it was the most prudent course of action.
The true tragedy—the tragedy no one wants to think about—is what happened to those boys. Their innocence was shattered by someone they trusted, someone whose job it was to watch and protect them, and there is no coming back from that. The specter of Jerry Sandusky may hang over Penn State for years to come, but those boys have lost something at too young an age that matters far more than the reputation of any person or organization. We can only hope that they can find some measure of peace in their lives, and hopefully the ability to put together the fractured pieces, and perhaps they will find a way to move forward with their lives.
No legacy, no matter how great, will ever be more important than that.