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Paterno's Last Stand

Harris Mayersohn |
November 13, 2011 | 7:09 p.m. PST

Staff Contributor

(Coach Joe Paterno on the sideline during warmups prior to the 2006 homecoming game versus the University of Illinois. Creative Commons)
(Coach Joe Paterno on the sideline during warmups prior to the 2006 homecoming game versus the University of Illinois. Creative Commons)
Joe Paterno will forever be known as one of the greatest football coaches of all time. There’s no question about it. Even though every major pundit out there would have you believe that his legacy has been ‘completely tarnished’ by the Sandusky sex scandal, the truth remains that in due time the legendary coach, lovingly known as Joe Pa, will be remembered for his 409 wins – the most in Division I college football history – not his semi-involvement in a sex abuse cover-up.

And I’d argue, that’s the way it should be.

Before everyone stops reading and starts freaking out in the comments section telling me that I’m pro-child rape, let me explain myself.

I agree with Penn State University’s decision to fire the legendary coach even in the wake of his announcement to retire at the end of the season.

Even if Sandusky wasn’t on Paterno’s coaching staff at the time of the alleged shower incident, Paterno failed to make sure that the police were notified of the event. Even though he didn’t keep it to himself, he made a major lapse in judgment. Paterno will forever have to live with the reality that he could have stopped an unspeakable thing from happening to at least eight young, vulnerable children. It’s truly disgusting. No matter how much Paterno may have done for Penn State, everyone associated with the scandal needed to be removed in an effort to save some credibility.

The students rioting through campus are complete idiots. If they honestly believe that one irresponsible football coach is more important than the sanctity and innocence of numerous youths than they’re more moronic than Ashton Kutcher (who didn’t understand why Paterno got fired in the first place). Paterno’s dismissal was a great decision in regard to Penn State public relations and morality.

Even though his career had a surprising end – especially considering that most people assumed Joe Pa would die in ten years, still on the sidelines – Paterno’s coaching legacy will remain unblemished, bound to go in the history books as arguably the greatest collegiate coach of all time. Deservedly so.

What Paterno accomplished as a coach should not be diminished because of this scandal. He put in decades of work to build up his reputation and established himself, and by extension the Penn State football program, a legitimate forces in the world of football. His coaching accolades say it all: 2 National Championships, 409 wins, 24 bowl wins, 5-time American Football Coaching Association Coach of the Year, and so much more that I don’t have enough available characters to type it all up.

At the same time, Paterno’s involvement in this scandal, while undeniable, is very awkward. It’s important to note that at the time of the 2002 shower incident, Sandusky was no longer a member of Paterno’s coaching staff. While Paterno should have without a doubt contacted the authorities to take care of the matter, it wasn’t like he just sat on the information without telling anybody. He did tell higher-ups at the University about what he had heard. Mike McQueary, the assistant coach who actually saw Sandusky with a child, was the one who should be held most accountable for failing to alert anyone.

Was it even Paterno’s place to force Sandusky out of Penn State even though he didn’t work for him? It’s not easy to alert the authorities that a good friend of yours whom you’ve known for decades is doing something morally and legally reprehensible. While Paterno’s tied back this case, it’s important to notice that it’s a moral issue, not a football issue.

Like sports legends before him who were involved in major scandals – broadcaster Marv Albert, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, and oh, so many more – those in the sports industry are defined by their contributions to the field, not their personal lives. While Paterno may be synonymous with Sandusky’s sexual exploits for awhile, he’ll be remembered for what he did on the field. Not for what he didn’t do in the front office.


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