The recent passing of a football legend has left me in a fog, wondering what to think and how I should feel about everything JoPa. Is it possible to separate a lifetime of good and decency from the scandal that brought his ultimate demise? Is it fair to mention his name in the same sentence as Jerry Sandusky? If it can happen in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, can it happen in Happy Valley, UT?
If you do not have personal experience with the type of abuse that took place at Penn State, you are, at the very least, like me and know someone who has, and you know the pain that it causes. In junior high my football coach molested many of my teammates and I can only imagine how I would feel if someone knew what was happening and didn’t do everything humanly possible to make sure he was not only stopped, but locked up as well.
There is no excusing or maybe even forgiving what went on, period. But lumping Paterno in with Sandusky is a mistake. Paterno didn’t commit the heinous crimes that Sandusky did and mentioning them in the same sentence is as painful to write as it is wrong for us to say. The question that has been tormenting me since Paterno’s passing is: “Can something like this wipe out all the good associated with Penn State and Joe Paterno?”
Over the 45 years he was head coach, 900 coaching changes were made in college football and nine different men became leaders of the free world. Understanding Paterno was born in the roaring twenties, in between the first and second world war, during the Calvin Coolidge administration, helps to see why things went the way they did.
Old school thinking tends to be duty oriented and sending things up the chain of command. As a man of principle it must have made Paterno sick to imagine that his good friend could even think of violating any person in that way, if he could even wrap his head around what actually happened. As someone who grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn during the Great Depression, he may have even felt like taking Sandusky out himself. But as a man of discipline, he alerted his superiors and left the punishment to be handed out by those who held that right.
The other thing to remember is that Sandusky played for Paterno the first year he was head coach and was an assistant coach for 30 years before he was fired/forced to retire. As students who haven’t even been alive that long, it’s hard to imagine what a relationship of that length means. This whole situation has made me take a look inward and not only wonder what I would have done, but if I even have a right to judge.
In retrospect, there is no doubt Paterno should have done more.There is no excusing his role in the aftermath but it is important for us to remember that he is not the abuser. This scandal got headlines and put an end to a storied career, but don’t let this be his final headline. His legacy will always have an asterisk, but hopefully it stays in the footnotes.
His story deserves to be told for what it was, legendary.
By Jonathan Boldt