Everyone is quick to damn Joe Paterno. This makes no sense to me. Everyone loves Michael Jackson. It was the worst thing to ever happen when he died. His doctor deserved to rot in jail for his part in it. Everyone conveniently forgot that Mr. Jackson was the one touching the kids. Joe Paterno never once laid hands on any of the alleged victims here. In fact I would venture to say he probably doesn’t even remember seeing them.
What is hard to stomach is that Joe Paterno was a coach dedicated to the true purpose of college football. His players graduated. His players didn’t take money. His program was clean. The entire athletic department had never been found guilty of an NCAA violation. Yet coaches like Lane Kiffin, John Calipari, Nick Saban, Mack Brown they all get to keep their jobs despite putting winning before the rules and even worse academics. Those coaches chew their players up, get what they want out of them, tell them they will go pro so class doesn’t matter (even though a majority won’t), don’t prepare them for life after sports. JoePa not only put his players first, but in doing so he was successful. That is not something you see in college sports today.
Today you win by buying the best junior college QB. You win by having someone take the SAT for your star recruit so he can remain eligible. You win by paying the mortgage of you running back’s parents’ house. Then you split town when as soon as trouble shows up leaving the school to pay for your crimes. Paterno not only played within the rules, but he did it with steadfast loyalty and success. And how did the Penn State trustees repay him: a phone call telling him he was fired. All as a knee jerk reaction to public misconception.
Judging from 90% of the statuses on Facebook, most people did not know the facts of this story. Most people believed that Joe was standing there watching as his defensive coordinator did unspeakable things to children. That simply is not true. Joe Paterno was told by a graduate assistant of suspicious behavior of a former employee. He did not witness anything. He is not the police. His job is to coach football. He told his superiors the information he was told. Those two men were the ones who failed to act. Those two men were the ones who decided to cover it up. Not Joe Paterno.
Can you make the case that Paterno should have done more? Yes, of course. It is easy to sit back almost 10 years later and say he made a mistake. And that is where the tragedy is: one mistake brings what should be considered a shining model of how to be a college coach crashing down as some sort of devil. One instance of not doing quite enough is enough to destroy a man’s otherwise spotless legacy.
For 46 years Paterno did things the right way. That kind of loyalty and success is unprecedented. I am not saying that he should have kept his job; I am simply saying that he is being treated totally unfairly. If anything his resume earned him the benefit of the doubt to at least be told in person he was getting let go, if not let him finish the season out.
I guess Harvey Dent got it right: you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.