The Tarnishing of a Legend

Posted: November 10, 2011 in Life, Sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

I wasn’t going to write about this. It’s a story that everyone seems to be covering right now, and I’m not sure that I can bring anything to the table that hasn’t already been brought, but I don’t really think that’s my purpose here. Writing about current events isn’t really my thing either, but then I realized it’s not about me unearthing some truth that no one else is in on. This whole thing is about pure, raw emotion, and how it’s affected people nationwide, maybe even worldwide.

We could very well be seeing one of the biggest scandals in our lifetime unfold right now. One of the greatest coaches to ever live? Fired. Penn State’s president and athletic director? Fired. Everyone else associated with Penn State? Shocked.

I don’t know much about Penn State—but I do know a lot about sports, and I know that just last Saturday, Joe Paterno, with win number 409, surpassed Eddie Robinson and became the winningest Division I coach in the history of college football. I know that he’d been at the same school for 61 years—45 of those as the head coach. And I know that had he coached this coming Saturday’s game against Nebraska, he would’ve broken the record for number of Division I college football games coached. Now him and Amos Alonzo Stagg are tied atop that list at 548.

What I don’t know, and what many of us may never know, is why he didn’t do more nine years ago when a graduate assistant named Mike McQueary came to him and told him about a horrific scene he’d witnessed in a locker room in the Lasch Football Building. By Paterno’s own account, he doesn’t know why he didn’t do more. We all know that hindsight is 20/20—but there’s a big difference between me wishing on a Saturday I’d gone to bed earlier the night before, and Joe Paterno wishing he’d gone to the authorities to tell them that his former defensive coordinator was molesting young boys on campus.

All of us are human and we all make wrong decisions. The issue here is that a lot of people forgot that Joe Paterno is also human. He forever changed the face of not only Penn State Football, but college football as a whole. There’s a part in his bio, which strangely enough is still on the Penn State athletics website today, that says this, “He is one of the most admired figures in college athletics, an acknowledged icon whose influence extends well beyond the white chalk lines of the football field.”

So is that still true? Or does his lack of action nine years ago negate all that he accomplished? Personally, I think he still goes down as a legend, but I think that now he goes down as a legend with a disclaimer attached to him. Now instead of saying, “Joe Paterno was the winningest Divison I coach in college football history,” people will end up saying, “Joe Paterno was the winningest Division I coach in college football history, but then that whole sex abuse scandal erupted and he got fired.”

He’s still leaving behind a legacy—one that he very much created—but now that legacy is tarnished. Should he have done more than he did? Absolutely. But do any of us know what it’s like to be told what he was told in regards to someone he’d known for 30+ years? Someone who had become a friend? It’s pretty easy for those of us not involved, to say what we would’ve done when we’ve never had to endure a similar situation.

I’m not condoning what he did—had he, or any one of the number of people involved in this, just done more—there are several lives that wouldn’t have been damaged. But now, there are young men filled with shame, mothers filled with anger, fathers filled with disgust, students filled with disbelief, and former Penn State staff filled with remorse.

Late last night, a visibly distraught Joe Paterno uttered these words, “Right now, I’m not the football coach. And I’ve got to get used to that. After 61 years, I’ve got to get used to it.”

We’re all gonna have to get used to it Joe. Bless you for leaving such an indelible mark on college football, but damn you for having to go out the way you did.

  1. Melanie says:

    I am not just learning everything about this and I feel the college is doing the right thing. But I think the grad student should have gone to the police, especially after joe p didn’t. There are many at fault for doing nothing. It speaks to our society, many children that are abused go to some authority, be it a teacher, family member, people tend to not believe them and think they are lying to get attention.

  2. John Blabaum says:

    Oh, he’ll have a legacy all right. It will be one of allowing countless more children to be sexually abused all those years because he did nothing when learning of a rape. He was a great football coach. So what! His inaction trumps any of that. Hell, Hitler started out as a great motivator and statesmen. However, that is not his legacy.

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