Yesterday featured two fantastic NFL games, but January 22, 2012 will be remembered as the day that the world of sports lost a legend.
Joe Paterno, arguably the greatest coach in sports history, passed away at the age of 85 from complications related to lung cancer.
Paterno was at Penn State since 1950, and was the head coach since 1966. That type of loyalty to a program will likely never be repeated by any coach today or in the future. Paterno could have chased millions in the NFL, but he ultimately decided to remain at Penn State for his entire coaching career.
Before I get to the unfortunate happenings of the past few months, let’s look at a few of the many accomplishments of “Joe Pa” during his time at Penn State.
- 3-time Big Ten Coach of the Year
- All-time leader in Bowl Wins (24)
- 2-time National Champion (1982, 1986)
- 2007 College Football Hall of Fame Inductee
- All-time FBS leader in wins (409)
Off the field, he donated several million dollars to the university and even has a library, Paterno Library, named after him at Penn State. He was a major influence in the lives of his players, which is evident by all of them who are speaking out in the media. All of them only have positives to say about their former coach, as he was an inspiration in their lives.
Coach Paterno’s downfall came in early November, when former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on numerous counts of sexual abuse of young boys. This came after a grand jury investigation earlier in the year, where it was found out that assistant coach Mike McQueary saw one of these incidents, and reported it to Paterno.
It was said that Paterno informed his superiors, AD Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, who was the head of the university’s police. The general public could not believe this news. First off, people were enraged at the actions of Sandusky, who is simply a sick human being. He has the right to a fair trial, but all indications suggest that he is guilty of the crimes he is charged with. Why else would it matter if Joe Paterno reported the incident if it never happened?
The focus then shifted from Sandusky to the superiors at Penn State, including Paterno. He told those above him, but he did nothing to follow up on the situation. Many cited a “moral responsibility” to report such sickening activities directly to the police. The lack of a follow up by Joe Pa is what ultimately led to the Penn State Board of Trustees relieving him of his coaching duties on November 9th.
The actions after his being let go proved that the majority sided with Paterno and disagreed with the decision to let him go. Students at Penn State began to rally, and small “riots” broke out. This type of activity is unacceptable, but it showed the overwhelming support for Paterno at the university. Hundreds even gathered at his house, which is located right near campus.
Some members of the media will say that the students supported Paterno because they are young and refuse to see the bigger picture, but that is not true. They saw a legend, maybe even a reason why they chose to come to Penn State, being forced out due to the actions of another man. The fact that Sandusky committed the crimes seemed to be lost in the days following his arrest, as the bulk of media attention was devoted to the news surrounding Paterno.
Paterno may have overlooked the severity of the situation, but he did not commit a crime. It is unfair for anyone to say what they would do in such a situation, especially considering the magnitude of the situation. One could say that they would go right to the police, but we do not know what exactly went down in the conversations between the coaches and superiors at Penn State.
The pain of the entire situation at the university may have ultimately led to the passing of a man that fought for over 60 years at his beloved Penn State. He died of lung cancer, but his fighting spirit was without a doubt damaged by the events surrounding Sandusky and the resulting fallout.
If there was still any doubts about whether Paterno would be remembered for what he did do, and not for what he didn’t do, those doubts were erased after his passing. Coaches and former players from all over the country only had positive things to say about Coach Paterno. His statue right outside of Beaver Stadium was surrounded by hundreds of students who were paying their respects to the man who influenced their lives, even though they may never have met him.
Time will tell how Paterno will be remembered, but nothing can ever take away his accomplishments in the game of college football. He is Penn State. People associate the university with Paterno, and this will continue to hold true for years to come.
The truth will come out in the case of Sandusky, and Paterno will still not have committed any crime. Hopefully, everyone will remember who actually committed the crimes and who was put in a tough position by them.
Things will eventually blow over, whether that takes months or years I cannot say with certainty, and Paterno will regain his place as the greatest coach who ever lived.
Not for what he didn’t do, but for what he did do.