Joe Paterno: When Integrity Precedes a Legacy

Joe Paterno has coached football at Penn State for about half a century and won 409 games, which is more than any other head coach in college football history.

Yes, he also donated millions of dollars of his salary to Penn State.

And yes, more than 250 of the players he has coached have gone on to the NFL.

There is no denying that the now deceased Joe Paterno has numerous accomplishments on the field, but his reputation for winning with integrity off the field has been damaged beyond repair. Paterno, who died at age 85 this week, will be remembered for overlooking one of the biggest scandals in college football history.

It is unfeasible to live a life without flaws. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to do so. Paterno did not make “just a mistake.” There were innocent children involved, children who were put right in the path of a child molester.

Jerry Sandusky, the school’s former defensive coordinator, was charged with sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15-year period. Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant, witnessed Sandusky assaulting a child in the showers. McQueary testified that he then told Paterno of the incident who waited a day before alerting school authorities and took no further action noted. The 23-page grand jury report, filled with its nauseating details, would be enough to enrage anyone who has children or has ever been a child.

If Paterno would have taken more action, Sandusky could have been arrested sooner, leaving at least one of the alleged victims at peace. Paterno told university officials but not police, opening himself to much criticism that he knowingly protected an accused child molester for nine years. Truth is Paterno, arguably one of the most powerful figures on campus, chose to see through a blind eye and listen with a deaf ear just as the other adults.

There is zero room in the definition of legacy for someone who chose to turn their back to the truth.

He was an adult who denied his moral responsibility. This may sound harsh to someone who defends child molesters and agrees with letting someone continue a deviant act as long as it has no effect on you and your family.

From now until Neverland, it will be impossible to separate Paterno from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Paterno’s own words “I wish I’d done more” are a sad, addition to a now closed book.

I watch as millions mourn the death of a “football coach.” But I ask, “Who will shed a tear for the Sandusky victims?”

I will.