Legendary college football coach Joe Paterno passed away on January 22, 2012 after a short battle with lung cancer. This man is the winningest coach in college football history, but was even more well-known for the boys he raised into adulthood during his coaching tenure at Penn State that lasted for 46 years. He also was a great philanthropist, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes and starting many programs to help the community, not just at Penn State but all over the world. However, his legacy was forever tarnished recently when his former defensive coordinator and lifelong friend Jerry Sandusky was charged with abominable acts of child molestation that were tied to the University as well as Joe Paterno himself.
The debate has raged on ever since Penn State decided to terminate the coach after his 46-year reign. Paterno was aware of an incident that took place on the Penn State campus (in the football locker room, no less) where Jerry Sandusky was engaged in an act of molestation to a ten-year-old child. Paterno was absolved from any legal guilt in the matter; according to law, he did all that was required of him. He passed on the information to his superiors at Penn State, allowing them to determine how to proceed. However, while the chain of command may be in place, it is commonly known that Joe Paterno was the face and the most influential, powerful figure behind Penn State University, and many were outraged that he didn’t do more once these events came to light.
University officials responded in an unbelievably light-handed manner to the incident; they simply requested that Sandusky not bring minors into the locker room of the football facility. The matter was not passed on to authorities, and in fact, Sandusky continued to use university facilities and held an office right up until his arrest. Just a week before his death, Paterno expressed regret in an interview, saying that he could and should have done more.
Now, Joe Paterno has followed in the footsteps of his only real competition in the coaching world, Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary coach of the University of Alabama. It was Bryant’s record that Paterno broke to become the winningest college football coach of all time. Bryant passed away at the age of 69, shortly after he retired from the gridiron, leaving many to think that the game itself was his lifeblood and what kept him waking up in the morning. For years, there has been rampant speculation over when JoePa would retire from Penn State, but he just kept on going, even as his health was failing. It is quite likely that he would still be the head coach at Penn State today if the unfortunate scandal had not come to light.
Paterno was 85 years old, and up until the terrible Sandusky story came to light, ready, willing, and able to continue on for another season. After the scandal broke, Paterno was in chemotherapy for lung cancer in days. We all know how stress can take its toll on one’s immune system, and no doubt this is much more damning for an 85-year-old man. Even as memorials are scheduled and Paterno goes to his final resting place, many are wondering if the scandal was the final blow for what many hoped would someday be a centurion. Fired from the university he devoted the better part of his life to, and implicated as a knowing party to a cover-up that almost no human being can condone, did the scandal weaken JoePa to the point of his very death?
The American media loves to take a good man down, but this curious case is one that will forever live in infamy. With one of the best resumes of stewardship for his fellow man that anyone could hope to have as a legacy, Joe Paterno’s will always have the asterisk, the footnote, indicating the terrible circumstances under which the university he so loved had no choice but to cut ties with him. On the bright side, while his death is tragic, the media circus that will no doubt surround the trial of Jerry Sandusky (who still denies all the charges emphatically) will not be on JoePa’s mind. He will not have to wonder if he will be called to testify, or to wonder if more events might be brought to light that further damage his legacy. It could possibly be suggested that Joe Paterno got the easy way out. Time will tell. In the meantime, what do you think?