A day that everyone knew would eventually come still managed to shock the world. On January 22, 2012, Joe Paterno passed away at the age of 85 due to complications from lung cancer. If this would have happened just a handful of months ago, the discussion would be about his legend and what he did for the game as well as the university that employed him. What is being discussed instead is how this man will be remembered amid the cover up of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse that allegedly happened under his watch. A lot of people are going to tell you how to feel. They're going to tell you that there is right and wrong here. No gray area. I'm here to tell you that we are complex beings that have the ability to feel a range of emotions regarding this situation because that's where I am with it.
For 60 years, SIXTY, Paterno was an icon that was borderline worshiped in not only State College, Pennsylvania but across the entire state. That became an issue in and of itself but that is a conversation for another day. The man did more than just win college football games. His football players went to class and they succeeded. He believed that academics and athletics could go together and he proved it. In 2008, the NCAA's Graduation Rates Report stated that Penn State graduated 78% of its students. That ranked second in the Big Ten only to Northwestern who is nationally renowned for their academic aptitude. He and his wife Sue had also donated over four million dollars to the university as well as helped with fundraising to help raise a tremendous amount of money for programs and buildings that had no direct affect to the football program.
The fact is that he kept his job for so long because of what his teams did on the football field, not because he was a good guy. Paterno left the game with the most wins in Division-I football history as well as the most bowl victories among any coach. He is the only coach to ever win all four of what are now called the BCS Bowls. Paterno won two national championships and was the leader of five undefeated teams. Four of those teams did not get awarded the national championship. Though late in his career, he became a punchline for a lot of jokes because of the obvious fact that he no longer was running the team, he still had a huge following. No one cared that he wasn't calling the shots because his name was Paterno. He had the right to say when he was going to leave. That was until November 5, 2011.
On that day, Paterno's former defensive coordinator Sandusky, was arrested on 40 counts of sexual abuse of eight boys over a 15 year period. By now we all know the story of what Sandusky did, what everyone knew or didn't know, and what Paterno didn't do about it. All of that caused for Paterno to lose his job on November 8 via a phone call. Many people always believe that Paterno would either die on the football field or he would die shortly after having football taken from him. In Bear Bryant fashion, that is exactly what happened. He was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after his dismissal as the head football coach of Penn State University and eventually died from complications from that brutal disease.
So how should this man be remembered? Is he the winningest college football coach of all time that donated his life to making the school that he worked for elite? Or is he an enabler that did not go to the police when he knew a middle aged man was molesting young boys? I can't tell you how to feel but I can tell you how I feel about it. I am still disgusted that Paterno did nothing. He ran that place and he could have stopped it. Anyone that tells you otherwise is foolish. That doesn't mean I wanted the man to die for it. The man made an awful mistake. A worse mistake than most of us will ever make in our lives. However, he also did more good than most of us will ever do in our lives.
You can remember this man any way that you choose to do so. Personally, when I think of Joe Paterno, the first thing that will likely come to my head is all the good that he did on and off the football field. However, as a proud parent, I will never be able to forgive him for the biggest mistake he made in his life. I believe you can be on both sides of the fence when it comes to his legacy. But even if you do look positively like I am trying to, the legacy is still tarnished.
RIP Joe Paterno