His statue is moved, the NCAA is on their way in and people everywhere – with the possible exception of those in eastern PA – are having at Joe Paterno and what his legacy will be. Maybe this is as it should be but there ought to be some degree of fairness afforded him. The first part of the fairness is that, while the entire situation is disgraceful, the main culprit is Jerry Sandusky. He is the man who abused those children, not Paterno. For the people who claim what Paterno did was just as bad as what Sandusky did, that’s simply not true. Paterno’s lack of proper action was an egregious mistake. Had he – and others – acted immediately, many of the young boys would have spared. But Paterno was not a child molester. In fact, without Jerry Sandusky there is no tragedy at Penn State. NCAA violations, quite possibly, but if you truly believe that that list isn’t a lengthy one, your favorite team better be from the Ivy League or someday you might be in for a major shock.
“The horrific allegations that came to light in November have haunted us all, but nothing we have experienced compares to that of Jerry Sandusky’s victims,” Steve Garban former chairman of the Penn State board of trustees said. “My thoughts and prayers will remain with them always.” All of Paterno’s vocal critics will say, “Amen” to Garban but, “now let me get on with my lambasting Paterno.”
The highly opinionated Roland Martin said, “Joe Paterno was nothing more than a narcissistic, arrogant coward.” How well Martin actually knew Paterno I don’t know but there are many who have exhibited similar intense feelings toward the late coach. Maybe that attitude is due to some previous confrontation with Paterno, maybe it’s a long held vendetta because JoePa blew them off one day when they asked for an interview they didn’t get. Or maybe they’re just small people who love it when people higher up on the totem pole than they are found to have faults and relish in crucifying them. What is it these people want? Exhume his body and draw and quarter it in Beaver Stadium on national TV?
Therein lies the difference in how people feel toward this ugly situation. Those who’ve known him for some time, e.g. his former players, have an entirely different take of him. From Lavar Arrington to Matt Millen to former defensive captain Lee Rubin. When Rubin was asked, “After hearing the Freeh report, do you feel the same way about Joe Paterno?” his response was, “Not regarding my relationship with him and all he did for me.”
“All he did for me.” Let’s not forget that JoePa spent over six decades, longer than most of his critics have been alive, and accomplished some pretty exceptional things during that tenure. Those who knew Joe, or admired him from afar, are devastated by his inability to have done what was right because, for so long, that’s what they felt Joe stood for. When he said, “In hindsight, I wished I had done more,” his supporters sympathized. The human element holds as true in this story as it does in every one.
In John Maxwell’s book, Everyday Greatness, he relates that in 1972 Paterno was offered the head coaching job with the New England Patriots which was worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, plus partial ownership of the franchise. After refusing it, JoePa said, “I love winning ballgames as much as any coach does, but I know there’s something that counts more than victory or defeat. I get to watch my players grow – in their discipline, in their educational development and as human beings. That is a deep lasting reward I could never get from pro ball.” That doesn’t sound like the monster many are making him out to be.
In the end his loyalty to Penn State may have been his undoing. He stayed too long. Winning as big as he did, for as long as he did, in such a remote place as Happy Valley gave him godlike stature. This is what could have led to his dismissal of Sandusky’s actions and his apparent abuse of power. Paterno isn’t alone in a football coach who, in retrospect, made missteps in authority. To find what autonomous power can do, read The Junction Boys about Bear Bryant’s preseason conditioning techniques. People laugh that off as, “Ol’ Bear was a sonuvabitch to play for, but he made you a man.” As with much of life, timing is key. Does anyone in their right mind think Joe Paterno really condoned sexually abusing children?
In an interview earlier this week, Mike Krzyzewski, who became a close friend of JoePa’s said that there’s danger when someone is afforded power, prestige and, he added, money. “But,” Mike continued, “with all of that comes trust and it can’t be abused.”
Another coach, Bill Parcells, when asked about how to handle making a mistake, gave some terrific insight:
“When you make a mistake: 1) admit it, 2) correct it, 3) learn from it, 4) don’t dwell on it, 5) don’t repeat it.”