Is selective hindsight Coach Joe Paterno’s legacy?

Daniel Perret-Goluboff

I’ve been told that one should only speak well about the dead. As a writer I can’t say that I believe in the aforementioned assertion, but certain instances lend themselves to this school of thought. This seems to be the case in the death of infamous Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

Paterno passed away this past Sunday at the age of 85 following a short but beleaguered battle with lung cancer. The news of his illness came shortly after his firing from the position of head coach of the Division I football program at Penn State University.

Paterno was fired late in 2011 after news spread that he had not contacted law enforcement upon hearing from one of his assistants that Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach, had been seen sexually abusing a young boy in a locker-room shower.

Allow me to clarify one thing: I do not support, endorse or make any attempt to take away from the severity of the horrendous actions forced upon Sandusky’s sexual victim. I simply feel the fallout that Joe Paterno encountered is causing casual observers to mar a legacy of greatness.

Paterno was a good man. He was not, however, a superhero. Should Paterno have done more upon hearing McQueary’s allegations against Sandusky? Yes.

Is it a great travesty that a man in a professional setting — especially one centered on the development of character within young men — violated his authority to the detriment of a much younger human being? Yes.

Are Paterno’s actions and involvement, or lack thereof, in this scandal enough to write him off in the way that much of the media has? No.

Paterno contacted his superiors at Penn State after learning of the sex crimes committed by Sandusky, and this is where my split opinion stems from. Paterno’s lack of further action following his superiors’ response came not from some sort of internal apathy but rather from a fear of causing obstruction within the university’s internal dealings.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it, and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno told The Washington Post in the only interview he gave following the scandal breaking.

do not believe that Paterno’s rationale for not taking further steps towards resolve — i.e., contacting legal authorities — was adequate, but I can’t bring myself to vilify him in all of this in the ways that so many have.

This is a man who dedicated his life to shaping and changing the lives of young men for the better. A man who worked the same job for 46 years and did it with a smile. A man who wanted nothing more than to do the best he could every day and to encourage those surrounding him to do the same.

His involvement in Sandusky’s scandal is saddening, and my heart goes out to those hurt by Sandusky’s actions and Paterno’s mistakes. Nonetheless, my mind is made up. Rest in peace, Joe Paterno. You were a good man.