Downfall of a Legend: Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno says he will retire at the end of this football season. It’s a tragedy to see such an illustrious football figure face the end of his career in such an ignominious manner, but his downfall is not without culpability. The 84 year-old football icon coached at Penn State for 46 seasons and established himself among the best, most respected coaches of all time.

This scandal will surely tarnish his reputation. After a graduate football assistant witnessed assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in the showers of the football locker room, he told Paterno what he had seen. Sandusky is charged with molesting eight boys between 1994 and 2009. Although Paterno passed on the accusations of “inappropriate behavior” to campus, he should have been more involved. It is regrettable whenever a leader must take the fall for actions beyond his control, but Paterno should have done more to alleviate this situation. The coach is known for his commitment to Penn State football, academics, and campus life, there is no reason why he should not have more actively pursued a serious allegation to the man who would eventually take over his job. Sandusky’s victims have suffered for years because of his reprehensible conduct and Paterno, uncharacteristically, let them live with this pain.

Perhaps he never knew the extent of Sandusky’s crimes, or maybe he just did not want to involve himself. But JoePa had an obligation to his assistant coach, his team, his school, the victims, and the law to work to correct the wrongdoing. While Paterno admits that “it is one of the great sorrows of my life” and that he wishes he “had done more,” the incident will forever blemish the impeccable record of commitment to academics, football, and spiritual life that he will leave at Penn State.

It is hard not to feel bad for Paterno, who battled through hip problems and old age to continue leading his team and his university. He embodies all that a coach should be: dedicated, enthusiastic, passionate, caring, and inspirational. The legacy he leaves behind, while tattered, should still command respect and exemplify all that current coaches should strive to emulate. He has coached five undefeated teams, two national championship teams, and has won twenty four bowl games. Always committed to academics, Paterno graduated 74% of his players in 2007, 19 points higher than the national average. He took Penn State from an unheard of, self-described “cow college” to a college football dynasty. No coach, especially one like Paterno, should have to leave under these circumstances, but ultimately, his failure to oversee this sensitive matter will be his downfall. Joe Paterno will remain committed to leading his team for the remainder of the season and then he says “I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university.”

Will Duncan