Rest In Peace, Joe Paterno

Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy. ~Joe Paterno (1926-2012)

Amid all the hoopla of NFL Championship Weekend yesterday, a living legend of the game passed away. Regardless of how one feels about the recent scandal at Penn State (and I don’t mean to diminish the weight of that in any way,) Joe Paterno’s death is the passing of an era and should be treated as such.

This was one of the last members of the Greatest Generation. He started coaching before my parents were born and took over as Penn State’s head coach in 1965, when they were just 13. He is one of those Old but Venerable Guy figures whom I will permanently associate with the game, like Harry Caray, Sparky Anderson and Tommy Lasorda in baseball. Regardless of Paterno’s role (or non-role) in the Penn State scandal, there is no denying his previous accomplishments on and off the field. In addition to holding the record as the NCAA’s all-time winningest football coach, Paterno strongly emphasized the role of academics in an athlete’s life and donated, in his lifetime, over $4 million to his university.

Perhaps he hung onto a good thing for too long. There were long whispers he was getting senile. The sidelines of a football game are no place, after all, for an octogenarian (Paterno was injured in 2006 and did not, some will argue, ever fully recover). Some competitors never know when to hang it up. Then there was the Sandusky scandal. Even non-sports fans have heard of that one. The implication is that Paterno knew, at some point, and did not do enough. Until the accused parties are put on trial, the public may never know. Paterno, of course, bore the full wrath of the university and was fired in the fall of 2011. Maybe, in the end, it was a guilty conscience that took him. Or a broken heart. We don’t know.

What we do know is that Paterno has to be viewed through an objective lens. Yes, it was on his watch that terrible things allegedly happened to children. (I was reminded terribly of the late Pope John Paul II and the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.) However, his legacy should be remembered as one of achievement, character, and goodwill. I fear he will be forever associated with the Sandusky scandal and not for a career of accomplishments. That’s the way things go. Just ask Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton.

My hope is that Paterno’s passing serves two purposes: a chance for Penn State fans and everyone else to remember all the good things he did in life, and the turning of a page into a new era of healing and reconciliation. The process won’t be easy and might take many years. I have confidence that Penn State, like a phoenix, will rise from the ashes better and stronger than before. And I say this not as a Nittany Lions fan, but a sports fan in general. And that will the best legacy of all for JoePa.

Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on January 23, 2012.

2 Responses to “Rest In Peace, Joe Paterno”

  1. Thank you for your kind words for JoePa, as you so put it this man has ALWAYS been the coach at Penn State for all of my life, I was born in ’67 so I literally always saw him associated with Penn State, I dont live in that state nor did I go to that school, but that man was a living legend, for getting and keeping that School to the level as he did I think should have been commended.

    I do not disagree that the charges that were levied against his assistant are very serious, but that being said JoePa didnt condone the mis-treatment, if I remember correctly he was always thought of as a tough uncle for the boys that were on his teams, he taught them to expect the most out of themselves like society expect the same from them as well.

    He will be missed, they dont make em like him anymore, he was/is a legend whos memory will outlive the bad that has attempted to smudge his good name.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Deborah. I agree that a man’s entire career can’t be defined by one moment, and in Paterno’s case, I fear this may be true. I’ll always remember him as a man of integrity and character, and I have a feeling you will too. 🙂 He is one of the last of that breed of coach.

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