Joe Paterno’s Death and his Penn State Legacy

Joe Paterno’s Death and his Penn State Legacy
  • Opening Intro -

    The Penn State community is in mourning today following the death this past weekend of long-time head football coach Joe Paterno.

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Legendary coach dies on Sunday following a short battle with lung cancer.

Paterno, who began coaching at Penn State 61 years ago and was the Nittany Lions’ head coach for 46 years, was relieved of his position last fall following the child abuse scandal involving one of his former assistant coaches. Paterno was fired after not following up on the abuse allegations. The scandal has shaken Penn State to the core and also led to the firing of university president Graham Spanier.

University-Wide Influence

Paterno’s influence at Penn State extended well beyond football. The coach was a top fund-raiser, helping the school expand its endowment above $2 billion reports the Chronicle. Paterno was also a tenured professor who had a chair in the English department named for him.

Penn State’s emergence as a top-tier football program has come about because of Joe Paterno. Paterno brought two national championships and 24 bowl victories to Happy Valley and it was his presence that helped Penn State gain admittance to the prestigious Big Ten Conference. Because of Paterno, the football program has one of the highest graduation rates of all major universities due to its “Success With Honor” motto that advocates student academic success and involvement in the community through voluntary works.

The university’s ethical status has taken a severe hit as the gravity of the child abuse scandal emerged and became known. A coach who did so much for the university did not do enough to protect young children from a predator. Instead, Paterno put power, prestige and money ahead of ethics, which eventually led to his dismissal. A community is rightfully mourning the man affectionately known as JoePa, but his reputation has been sullied and will likely carry a permanent stain. Although Paterno was not accused of wrongdoing, what he knew and didn’t follow up on has forever changed how we will remember him.

Final Interview

On January 14, the Washington Post published an interview with JoePa, his last interview in fact. Reporter Sally Jenkins met with Paterno, his wife and their four children in Paterno’s kitchen, and discussed his career which came to end following a brief, terse phone call from a college official announcing his termination.

Of the scandal, Paterno said, “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

No, it did not work out. Worse, Penn State is now named among other scandals that have been uncovered in recent years, from the child abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church to the fall of Enron, Solyndra and Lehman Brothers. How the university remedies its reputation won’t come easily. That is a lesson that needs to be learned by every college and university that puts a high price on athletic success.

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Categories: NCAA Football