Commentary

In Praise Of Joe Paterno

  • by , Featured Contributor, January 26, 2012

I am like so many of the more than 450,000 folks affected by Joe Vincent Paterno -- thousands of whom work in our industry and who attended Penn State over the past 61 years.  It is probably hard for those who didn’t go to Penn State or who didn’t live nearby to fully understand the impact that a football coach could have on so many. But I can tell you that Paterno’s effect on our lives was extraordinary.

Penn State was a very big part of the first 20+ years of my life. Not only did I spend four years in State College in the early 1980s, but my sister, brother, my father, my aunt and my grandmother all graduated from Penn State as well. Plus, I grew up an hour away from the campus, attended my first football game in Beaver Stadium in 1968 when I was five years old, and watched Paterno’s weekly TV talk show every Wednesday night during the football season.

What made Paterno special to most of us was not really what he and his players accomplished on the football field. Certainly, they won a lot of games. Paterno won more games than any other coach in the history of major college football. He won two national championships and had a number of undefeated seasons.

And certainly Paterno’s teams played and acted on the field in a manner different from most other college football players. They wore plain uniforms without names on them. They didn’t celebrate touchdowns or taunt opponents; those who did quickly found themselves in his famous “doghouse” and were benched.

What made Paterno so special was what he and his teams did off the field. Penn State was one of only two large schools never to have been guilty of a major NCAA violation. The players went to class and graduated with degrees at rates that were at or near top of the nation every year since those records have been kept.  Players grew up to become important business and civic leaders, great husbands and parents, great teachers in their own right.

Paterno made headlines for turning down millions of dollars to leave State College and coach in the NFL for teams like the Steelers, the Patriots and the Giants. Instead, he and his wife, Sue, stayed in their ranch house on the edge of campus, kept their home phone number listed for any and all to call, donated millions of dollars to the university to expand its library, and led fundraising efforts for the university that sraised hundreds of millions more.

Three months ago Paterno was fired in the aftermath of former coach Jerry Sandusky being charged with serial sex abuse of minors, amid reports that Paterno himself did not follow up his reports of a possible related incident diligently enough to ensure that his superiors investigated it fully and informed police. As Paterno said in a statement soon thereafter, “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

Beyond this, what Paterno did or didn’t do is not yet known. To date, the only facts we have are a small portion of grand jury testimony transcript that paints a picture of horrific crimes that Sandusky is alleged to have committed -- crimes that are difficult for any of us, particularly parents, to grasp. While it is natural that we all want to strike out at anyone who might have been involved or might have helped stop this earlier, I believe that it is important first to let all of the facts come out and let due process be served, even if it frustrates our desire to strike back at the horror of the alleged crimes.

Today, on the day of Paterno’s funeral, I praise someone who taught me that you have to work hard every day, even when you think things are going really well, because “You either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.” Or, that “You are never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose.” I praise the person who routinely and randomly stopped students as he walked across campus to ask them about their professors and courses, grilled them on Greek history, or debated them on current events.

Before I went to Penn State, I assumed that a good portion of what we heard about Paterno’s maniacal focus on academics was probably as much fiction and image as fact. What I learned once I was there, and got to know a number of his players well, was that the truth was even better. His forced study halls were infamous. His players walked the talk. Surprisingly, I learned that few of them were personally close to him. He wasn’t a “buddy, buddy” coach. He was a teacher. He was demanding. He held them to higher standards than students at large, which is why his players graduated at rates higher than the rest of the university.

Some saw him as tyrannical. Many players found themselves held to standards much tougher than what they had grown up with. His battles with those who chafed and didn’t want to toe his line are famous.  However, I suspect that he may have found special satisfaction these past few months from the fact that that some of the former players who defended him most publicly -- former NFL stars like Franco Harris, Matt Millen and LaVar Arrington -- were notable for their clashes with him when they were undergraduates.

Some have described Paterno’s life as a great Greek tragedy, not unlike those he loved to read. I don’t agree. Joe Paterno is a great American success story. He stood for what was right and great. No one is perfect. He wasn’t. We aren’t perfect, but every day we get up and try. He did this day-in-and-day-out on an amazing public stage for 61 years -- longer and more successfully than anyone before him. For this, he deserves our praise. This is also why I believe that time and the truth will be very good to him.

Thank you Joe Paterno.

12 comments about "In Praise Of Joe Paterno".
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  1. Ken Kurtz from creative license, January 27, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

    Enough already with the lionization of the former leader of the Nittany Lions.

    Paterno was not a great man. A great man would have been compelled to STOP DEAD IN ITS TRACKS the sexual abuse of children. Unfortunately, we know enough to know that Paterno's NOT being compelled to do his utmost to make sure that no child was ever raped by his former sidekick again was a very catholic response. To me, he took his cues from his miserably failed church, and its PATERNalistic ways... and proved that not only was he lacking "greatness" but that his heart, and soul were devoid of The Holy Spirit's presence as well.

    So, the beatification of John Paul II continues (a man that was complicit in knowingly re-assigning pedophiles under his charge to new places so that ever-increasing numbers of young boys could be raped, and ruined in the name of God is on his way to becoming a saint)... and many will continue to prop up JoPa amidst cries about how unfair it was for Penn State to do THE ONLY RIGHT THING available to them.

    Lessons will be learned... hopefully, people will react appropriately in the face of evil in the future in part because Paterno got what he deserved- immediate dispatch.

  2. Josh Perkiel from Proclivity Media, January 27, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.

    Sexual abuse of a child will literally shatter their life and change the person they are forever. Good coach or not, good person or not, if he knew about the sexual abuse of just one child and didn't walk into police headquarter screaming about what he saw, then he's complicit. He said he "wished he had done more"...I'm sure the victims do as well. It's alright to commemorate a football coach if all the facts were out, but since they are not you are potentially commemoration someone who stood by with knowledge of horrific crimes. While important to some, Football is just a sport; it's not more important than the lives of those that have been destroyed by his (suspected) lack of doing more to stop these crimes.

  3. Kevin J. Alexander from Sky Angel Networks, LLC, January 27, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.

    Thank you Dave. Thank you Joe.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 27, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.

    Not only will he be taking the cover up to his grave, he cannot be forgiven and his acceptance of his position at Penn State gave him the responsibility to protect all under his watch. Not that he was the only one who knew either. Yes, one wrong choice can ruin people to no end. He knew and he suspected way back when Sandusky was eliminated from his job and he made a choice There are still questions about what happened to the prosecutor and the charges made back then. Yet they allowed him back onto the campus and into the locker rooms. Paterno, at the very least, could have stopped it. The millions he gave away was perhaps out of guilt and the hundreds of millions the football team brought in by the old boys club helped put college football ahead of humanity. Would you feel the same way if your son or nephew's rapes were ignored ?

  5. Henry Harteveldt from Atmosphere Research Group, January 27, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

    I found this quote of Mr. Paterno's, "You either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same," to be quite compelling. I had not heard it before, but it is one I will now always bear in mind. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. Victoria Yarnish from FUSION PUBLIC RELATIONS, January 27, 2012 at 1:23 p.m.

    He was a great man who made a deep impact on our his community, a university and the nation. Thanks for shining the light on the truth about Joe Paterno, that he was a fierce teacher. Those of you who continue to spin his life and accomplishments around the acts of an estranged and abusive and sick coach are just ignorant. I agree with those who support the truth - Phil Knight (Nike founder), Franco Harris, LaVar Arrington, Mike Millen, Bobby Bowden, Coach Krzyzewski and now Dave Morgan. It is always good to be educated in what you are going to publicly display for the world and your colleagues to see. I think a great number of people carelessly read misleading headlines and jump to judgment based on that. It's just plain lazy. I recommend reading up on the man you are publicly crucifying, here's a starter for you - http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/7492873/rick-reilly-paterno-true-legacy?eleven=

  7. Ken Kurtz from creative license, January 27, 2012 at 2:06 p.m.

    Sorry Victoria. He was not a "great" man. A great man would have protected the boys that were being raped by his sidekick.

    All the nice coaching, and life lessons "taught" by Paterno over the years will rightfully be superseded by his looking the other way, and NOT doing the right thing to protect innocent children.

    I attended a Penn State football camp in the late 70's... JoPa and Sandusky were there. I didn't see "greatness", but I did see some sickness.

  8. Andrew Frothingham from Andrew Frothingham, January 27, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.

    In an interview shortly before his death, Paterno said that he was confused because he had never heard of rape and a man. I don't buy that. Think of how many news items about priests and prisoners there have been during his long career. It doesn't pass the smell test. Paterno was a coach of many winning football teams. No one can take that away from him. But he chose his winning machine over the welfare of a minor. Not a hero. A failure.

  9. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, January 27, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.

    Sarah, Kenny, Andrew,
    I wrote this column to celebrate what is known, not to debate what is unknown and much debated. No one knows yet what Paterno knew or didn't know. For you to assume that you do know is fallacious. When that time comes, we will analyze all of this together and make our conclusions based on fact, not knee-jerk reactions to incredibly horrific fact patterns.

  10. Ken Kurtz from creative license, January 28, 2012 at 9:32 a.m.

    Dave...

    You're in denial with the "no one knows what Paterno knew, or didn't know" nonsense." JoPa's assistant McQueary has testified under oath already... Sandusky was having anal intercourse with what appeared to be a 10 year old boy in the Penn State showers. McQueary took that to Paterno... and JoPa's lack of moral outrage, and non-response sealed his legacy.

    JoPa said he was "confused" because he'd
    "never heard of rape and a man?" How about rape and boys? His own "church" had been paying now grown men that had been raped by priests for the what happened to them as boys FOR DECADES already?

    Joe was confused alright. Confused about worshipping at the WRONG altars.

    We know enough to unequivocally state that Paterno was, by definition, NOT a great man. A great man would have done a great thing when McQueary came to him in 2002 with confirmation of the evil that caused Sandusky to be let go from the Penn State staff three years earlier.

  11. Todd Brewster from Media Buying Decisions, February 10, 2012 at 9:47 p.m.

    This is a great article Dave and I am sorry I did not see it earlier, as many posters are misinformed. Hearsay about horseplay of a sexual nature about an EX-Coach was told to Joe Pa. This perversion in 2004 was both new and shocking to Joe, yet Joe followed the correct procedure and told the AD who along with the Head of Police had a meeting with the eyewitness to get direct testimony. At this stage, Joe legally has to step back or be interfering with a police investigation. This is ALL Joe could do legally as this scandal was not about the football program. It was also reported that Spanier, the PSU Pres, told Joe the investigation was closed. Joe insisted Sandusky be banned from campus, but Spanier overruled him. The media lynched Joe just to build ratings knowing that Joe was exonerated after a 3 year infestigation by the Grand Jury.

  12. Todd Brewster from Media Buying Decisions, February 10, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.

    Ken - to answer your statements directly. McQ back then was a grad asst. Mc never used the term "rape" when talking to Joe. The news about the Priests became "big news" after 2002. Sandusky was let go by Joe in 1999, because Joe told him he would never be HC.

    It seems to me that Joe rejected you and you carry a lot of animosity and are now distorting the facts. I am a Protestant, but your hatred of the Catholic Church is also very disturbing.

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