Penn State scandal stains Paterno’s pure public persona

As temperatures dropped and snow fell, Joe Paterno became the winningest coach in Division I college football history. His Penn State Nittany Lions, dressed in their simple, classy blue and white, defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 10-7 in Happy Valley.At the post-game press conference, school president Graham Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley presented Paterno with a placque. The placque read, “Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football.” One week later, the tables would turn for Paterno and his staff.

On Monday, November 5th, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing eight minors over a 15-year time span. While Sandusky was already retired, all of the accusations allegedly occurred while he was coaching the Nittany Lions.

This is chillingly horrific news for a program that has a reputation of being the ‘example’ that other schools, like Miami, Auburn, and Ohio State try to follow. Penn State was always the good guy.

While the Sandusky case definitely stained the reputation of the football program, it also seeped through to stain the deeper, more tightly-woven pieces of the Penn State football tradition.

Assistant coaches allegedly saw Sandusky’s indescribable sexual crimes, which were sometimes witnessed in the team’s locker room showers, first hand. They reported what they had seen to higher authorities, and, in doing so, the rumors passed through the wise hands of Paterno.

Paterno tossed this hazardous information to higher authorities, such as Spanier and Curley. These men, however, did nothing. Nothing was reported to the police, and no search was conducted to find out about Sandusky’s wrongdoings.

While Curley and Spanier face charges of perjury, Paterno is let off because he did his minimal duty in the situation at hand; he passed the information along to higher authorities.

Paterno did not contact the police, and he did not make any known legal steps to stop Sandusky’s actions. Yet, frankly, why should he?

After all, Paterno was on his way to being the winningest coach in Division I college football history. Scandals amongst his staff would be a perfect way to hurt his ever-so-trusted reputation.

Paterno has been the head coach at Penn State for almost 46 years. In this time, eleven American presidents have gone through the White House. He has had five undefeated seasons, appeared in 33 bowl games, and has won two national titles. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

According to fellow Pennsylvanians, Paterno is “a true leader,” and he is the “ideal role model.” Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel once said of Paterno, “[Paterno’s] legacy has made an impact on members of the younger generation.”

Along with the respect of his peers, he has surpassed many other coaching greats by stressing education amongst his players. Paterno has graduated 84% of his players throughout his career; this beats John Wooden and former Big Ten rival Lloyd Carr’s graduation rates.

Both Wooden and Carr are considered to be two of the greatest college coaches to ever coach their respective sports.

Why would Paterno ever risk his reputation as one of the classiest, most pure elements of modern athletics? From a business perspective, this is the way Paterno should have viewed the situation.

Yet, from a moral perspective, how did he let that information pass by, going unnoticed? As much integrity and morality as JoePa supposedly has, he just could not tell anyone. He could not tell anyone how, although seen through another’s eyes, a young boy was raped in a locker room shower by one of Paterno’s assistant coaches.

This lack of honesty and straightforwardness will taint a career that once stood out in modern times due to its purity and cleanliness.

This is not to say that Paterno won’t go down as one of the greatest football coaches of all time; anyone who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame more than five years before his retirement has surely done something right.

But to many, the man who wears the thick-rimmed glasses, dons the long white socks and khaki pants, and speaks with the raspy, Brooklyn-flavored voice, will never be viewed the same again.

By Grant Pepper
pepper.grant@oakwoodschools.org
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