The Tremendous Life and Tragic Times of Joe Paterno
On November 9, 2011 Penn State University’s Board of Trustees did what they believed was in the best interests of Penn State University. They fired the man who built Penn State University; they fired Joe Paterno. The full measure of any man shouldn’t be how he lived the last 78 days of his life. At the same time any look at the legacy Joe Paterno created has to include what took place in the days that followed Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on more than 50 charges related to child sex abuse allegations, charges that included an alleged event that took place in the Penn State football locker room in 2002.
On Saturday, October 29, Penn State beat Illinois 10-7 giving Paterno his 409th win, surpassing Eddie Robinson's record for most wins by a college football coach. “JoePa” (as he was affectionately called) was presented with a plaque by then Penn State President Graham Spanier and Atheltic Director Tim Curley. The plaque read "Joe Paterno. Educator of Men. Winningest Coach. Division One Football." Six short days later, life changed forever for Paterno, Spanier, Curley and many more when former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted.
Sandusky’s arraignment created an international firestorm in the days and weeks that followed resulting in Paterno, Spanier and Curley’s firing. While the anger directed at Penn State has subsided, the original issue remains – why did Penn State and the school’s athletic department seemingly cover-up allegations Sandusky had raped young boys in the Penn State football locker room first in 1998 and again in 2002?
Pennsylvania Attorney General has made it clear when the indictments were announced on November 4; legally Joe Paterno had followed the law in dealing with what he was first told by then-graduate football assistant coach Mike McQueary on a Saturday morning in 2002. Paterno told Jenkins he had “no inkling” that Sandusky might be a sexual deviant.
While Paterno and Sandusky had worked together for more than 30 years, the two men were not friends socially and their relationship was professional in nature, according to Paterno. By 2002, the two men had little, if any, contact.
Joe Paterno’s football program was generating $50 million in revenue for Penn State University in 2002, making Paterno the most powerful man at Penn State. Paterno suggestion to his superiors that “we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’” is as unacceptable today as it was when Mike McQueary first told Paterno about the horrific scene had he witnessed.
Paterno has three sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren. As unimaginable a scene as Mike McQueary had painted for Paterno, he had to know what happened was wrong and he had to take charge. He had to know what he was being told would forever taint Penn State football, Penn State University and as the de facto leader of the Penn State community, Paterno had to know what to do.
The above statements are true but at the same time the greatness of Joe Paterno, his legacy in large part includes the millions of dollars he raised for Penn State and more importantly the profile he created for Penn State that allowed Penn State to become one of America’s leading universities.
Penn State’s Board of Trustees, the same Board of Trustees who fired Paterno on November 9 released the following statement following Paterno’s death: “We grieve for the loss of Joe Paterno, a great man who made us a greater university. His dedication to ensuring his players were successful both on the field and in life is legendary and his commitment to education is unmatched in college football. His life, work and generosity will be remembered always.
“The University plans to honor him for his many contributions and to remember his remarkable life and legacy. We are all deeply saddened. We are considering appropriate ways to honor the great life and legacy of Joe Paterno. The University's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is consulting with members of the Penn State community on the nature and timing of the gathering.”
The Penn State Athletic Department issued the following statement: “This is a tremendous loss for Penn State and the world. Joe Paterno was a great man who was one of the greatest influences on my life and the lives of Penn Staters. For all of us who played for Joe, he taught us so much. He was a teacher and an educator first. He taught us about self-discipline and paying attention to the small details. He built young men from the inside out. He’s famous for saying, “if you keep hustling and plugging away something good will happen” and we all discovered how true that was.
“Because of the way he led and taught Penn Staters, the world is such a better place, not just because of his direct influence, but because of the influence he had on so many who have graduated from Penn State to positively impact the world.”
The State of Pennsylvania announced Monday all flags in the State will be lowered to half-staff in tribute to Paterno.
State senators and House representatives held moments of silence in their chambers Monday and listened to remarks from two Penn State alumni in honor of Paterno.
House Speaker Sam Smith says he'll remember the dignity and humbleness of a man who turned down the riches of an NFL coaching contract so he could make a difference in the lives of Penn State students.
Sen. Jake Corman calls Paterno an educator and humanitarian who took an interest in young people's lives, not just in what they could do on the football field. He says if people remember Paterno's commitment to excellence he'll never truly be gone.
Are the words spoken by Penn State honoring Joe Paterno at the height of hypocrisy given their decision to relieve him of his duties in the days following the Sandusky arrest on November 5? No, they’re not. As was noted at the start of this look at the life and times of Joe Paterno (and Monday’s SBN Obit focused on many of Paterno’s accomplishments) must include what the university, Paterno and the Athletic Department did since the terrible events that took place in 2002.
Penn State University did what they had to do; they fired nearly everyone who could be linked to the scandal and to the cover-up. That was the right direction for Penn State to take then, just as it is the right direction to honor Joe Paterno this week, in the days following his passing. Joe Paterno lived the life he wanted to live, a life of greatness for the most part, but a life filled with tragedy and sadness in the last 78 days of his life, an asterisk on the life and times of Joe Paterno.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom