Sports

The Unfortunate Truth: Joe Paterno's Legacy is Forever Tainted

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We are in the era of Mass Media; a time where you can just look on Facebook and Twitter to see account for every moment of someone’s day. That is why you have to make sure you are aware of your actions and who you associate with; because there is an old saying that if you want to know what a person’s character is, just look at their friends. In the case of Joe Paterno, he will be adored by some because of his accomplishments on the field, and hated by others because of his associations off the field.

JoePa may have passed away on Sunday, but he is someone that will be debated on for years to come. Paterno started coaching the Penn State Nittany Lions football team in 1966, a time where America was struggling to establish Civil Rights and people seemed to be more genuine. I’m not sure if anyone at Penn State knew what they were getting at the time, but JoePa would eventually hold the record for the most victories by an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football coach with 409 and is the only FBS coach to reach 400 victories. He coached five undefeated teams, won several major bowl games, and in 2007 was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach.

Despite all those accomplishments and accolades, Paterno will forever be remembered as the guy who had a child sex abuse scandal happen right under his nose. Paterno was fired mid-season by Penn State trustees in November 2011 after long-time assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse. The details are still sketchy, but we do know that Paterno knew something happened and he did report the incident to Athletic Director, Tim Curley. The police cleared Paterno of any wrong doing since he fulfilled his obligation legally, but what about his obligations morally?

You see, as someone with kids who also covers sports, I think a coaches’ job is not to simply teach a sport and walk away at the end of the day. As a coach you are in charge of making sure your players are sound mentally, physically and spiritually so they can have as much success off the field as they can on the field. Paterno was as well known for his contributions to academic life at Penn State as he was for his football accomplishments. He and his wife (Sue) donated millions of dollars to support various departments around the Penn State campus, so it is clear that educating the mind was as important to Paterno as conditioning the body was.

The biggest decision of Paterno’s life actually came off the field, and the man made the wrong call in this writer’s opinion. Instead of making sure to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, JoePa did the bare minimum the law required and washed his hands of the whole situation. We all make mistakes in life, some worse than others; but, the one mistake that is unforgivable is that of failing to protect children against any kind of abuse, whether it be mental, physical or sexual. One has to wonder what could have been for those kids who came along after Paterno first knew about the problem… could their innocence have been saved if Paterno had just done the moral thing instead of the legal thing?

Nobody will ever know what could have been because there is no ghost of Christmas past that can show us what could have or should have been. But, what I do know is that when I think of Joe Paterno I will always think of two things: 1) Greatest college football coach ever. 2) A man that knew he had a child molester (allegedly) on staff and did the bare minimum so that he could later say “I did my LEGAL obligation.” Some will say that someone else (Sandusky) ruined the legacy of Joe Paterno; I say that by Paterno doing as little as he could about the situation, he ruined his own legacy and those who make their beds have to lie in them.