“The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best. That the president, the athletic director and the board of trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities.” – Statement from Paterno Family
How else do you respond to the changed reality of the man you loved, cherished, and idolized after he amade a series of decisions that ultimately destroyed the lives of so many people? His crime if you can call it that was to look the other way as some of the most disgusting crimes on the planet were committed just down the hall from his office. Does that change the fact that he was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, mentor, and philanthropist? Does it change the thousands of men’s lives he shaped as a coach for over 60 years?
I can’t imagine being in the shoes of the Paterno family. I have the privilege of standing on the outside with nothing to gain or lose and pass judgement on Penn State and the Paterno legacy. Without having known the person I’m able to say what a selfish, proud, and corrupt person Joe Paterno was. A man who put his reputation and his career before the lives of others. But what if it was my father? A man who had raised me in a loving home, taught me how to throw a football, and drive a car. He gave me advice on girls, scolded me for getting in trouble at school, and told me how proud he was of me as I got married. How could I then sit back and let someone else tell me that this man whom I love and my kids adore is anything less? Would I allow them to tell me that an entire life of devotion and good is undone by ignoring the actions of someone else?
Throughout the entire investigation of Joe Paterno and the trial of Jerry Sandusky one thought reoccurred to me, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Joe Paterno had achieved a status that led him to believe he always had everything under control. I honestly would say he believed he was doing what was in the best interest of the school. And I will believe that he died so quickly after being fired because of a broken heart. Not for his personal legacy being tarnished, but the sad realization that he he had let down his school, his football team, and his family in a catastrophic way that no apology can ever convey.
I don’t feel sorry for Joe Paterno’s legacy. His statue being removed from the football stadium or the 112 wins that were erased from his record, dropping him from the winningest coach ever to eighth. But I do feel sorry for his family who must suffer through people retelling the story of a man who can no longer defend himself. Who can’t tell his story or apologize for his actions. They will not, nor should not, sit back idly and watch all that their father had worked for be stripped away as if Bernie Madoff had walked away with their life savings. Yes, his decision making process was flawed. Yes, his actions were reprehensible. And yes, his legacy should have an asterisk. But given that he wasn’t a monster whose secret identity was revealed, his family has every reason to remain proud defenders. And I give them credit for that.