Joe Paterno Dies, The Nation Shrugs Their Shoulders

I was in the gym when I saw the news that at 85 years old, former Penn State coach and former man who people liked had passed away. I looked in disbelief that something so terrible could happen to a person whose life had just finished a crash landing at the tail end of a wicked downward spiral. Never in sports has there been such a fast and overwhelming fall from grace. Joe Paterno embodied what we thought of as college football. He put Penn State on the map, and he did it all the while making the academic restrictions more rigorous.

But, it was ultimately what he didn’t do that ruined his image and brought about his firing. You know the story. There was a man on Paterno’s staff who was habitually raping young boys. Joe was given an eye witness account, however vague it may have been, passed it on to his higher ups and never gave it another thought. Just the other day Joe gave an interview where he said now, looking back, he wishes he would have done more. Hindsight is always 20/20.

There has been is a lot of venom being spewed in Joe’s direction since this story went public. I think in many cases, it’s easily arguable that most of this hate is grounded in fact an is justified. People are pissed off that Joe Paterno knew something was going on in “his house” and did nothing about it. People believe that Joe had a moral obligation to do more than he was legally obligated to do. He reported to his higher-ups that Sandusky was being accused of raping a young boy by his TA. He did everything he had to do, legally speaking. Only, we’re not just talking about what is legal and illegal, we’re talking about basic right and wrong. We’re talking about destroying lives, and never being confronted for it, just because you know defensive football.

It’s just not right.

All that being said, I am getting sick and tired of these sports radio and TV hosts ragging so hard on Joe Paterno just after that man passed away. That’s not how you talk about a man who was here the other day and is gone today. Have some respect. I know you venom spitters are fed up and want to make an example of Joe Paterno, but last time I checked, Joe Paterno never touched a kid in that way in his life. Not once. You can sit here and make the argument that Joe Paterno purposefully covered up Sandusky’s crimes because Sandusky was a good football coach. But you can not sit here and treat Joe like he was the one who did the deed. Paterno has gotten all the heat for Sandusky’s crimes. Where is all the venom for Sandusky? Why is no hate being poured out over him? Why is Joe the only one who has to bare this burden?

I just don’t get it, I guess. When you do something wrong, does your room mate get punished for it? Unless you’re thinking of that time you forgot to take that rotten meat out of your mini-fridge, no. My point is, all the talk, all the hate, all the drama has all been directed towards Joe Paterno. At times with good reason, but most often it’s just violent irrationality.

I heard something on Mike and Mike in the morning today (I don’t usually wake up early enough to listen) that I thought was very interesting. There was a guest, some famous guy, and he said the reason Paterno’s passing so suddenly is so devastating is that he never had a chance to try and make things right. He said he believes Paterno would have spent the rest of his life and energy doing everything in his power to right a mistake he made 15 years earlier. His passing simply didn’t allow it, and robbed him of a chance to rebuild his image.

An interesting thought, though we’ll never really know what happened.

I felt sad when I saw the news story in between sets in the gym. I remember thinking “no way can that be how it ends for him.” Well, I guess it is, which leaves how we react to his life up to us. Will we choose to remember the literally thousands of lives he changed for the better? All those students he saw succeed academically as well as athletically? Or will we focus on his one mistake? His one very big mistake of not making the extra effort to get that slime ball Sandusky off of his staff. Paterno turned down very big money coaching jobs (including an offer from the Steelers) to stay in college football. he loved the game, he loved his players, and he was like a father to a lot of young men who went on to be great players in the NFL, and all around great human beings (Franco Harris is one).

These guys will stand up for Joe no matter what happens, and I feel I’m on the same train. People speak as if Joe Paterno was responsible for raping all of those kids and he was not. Plain and simple. Joe Paterno is not guilty of those crimes. The only thing for which he is guilty is not taking the initiative to pursue action against Sandusky. It’s a big mistake, yes. A huge one. But it is not the same as committing those crimes and people need to remember that the fire they breath should be directed towards the real man guilty of these crimes.

My prediction is that Joe Paterno will go down in history as one of the most accomplished football coaches of all time. He’ll be talked about for generations. Only, every time you think of JoPa, you’ll think of Sandusky.

Out of all the people remembering JoPA during this sad time, some spit at the TV, some argue for Joe saying he did everything he had to do, but none are as bad as looking at the TV and simply shrugging your shoulders. In my opinion, it’s worse to have no opinion at all than to be on either side of this argument.

One thing is for sure: Never has a man been so elevated and fell so quickly. Not Tiger Woods, not Kirby Puckett, not Kobe Bryant, not Big Ben. This is not a simple problem and therefore there is not a simple answer. It’s a horrible thing and all we can really do is hope that someone has taken a look at what Paterno has done here, and will learn from his mistake.

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