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Say It Ain't So, Joe: Another Sports Legend Bites the Dust

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I grew up in Pennsylvania. Small town PA during the 1970s, the dark days of deindustrialization. We didn't know what deindustrialization was back then. We just knew that the coal mines were closing, the steel mills were shutting down, and the American Dream was slip sliding away.

 
Sure, the economy was going to hell, the environment was a mess, and the future looked bleak, but there was one ray of hope for Pennsylvanians in all that fin de siècle darkness: football. In the professional ranks there was, of course, the Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the meanest, toughest dudes in the NFL. Nobody could touch "em, not during the 1970s anyway. And even though I grew up on the other side of the state--within the sphere of (God help me!) Philadelphia Eagles fandom--eastern Pennsylvanians still benefited from the indomitable aura of the winners to the west. Nightmarish as those times may have been, the Steelers managed to transcend all of the misery that was besetting the Rust Belt. The worse times got, the tougher, more successful the Steelers seemed to become.

But it wasn't only the Steelers that sparked the hopes of down-and-out Pennsylvanians, there was also the Nittany Lions. Penn State University, sitting absolutely dead center in the Pennsylvania's rural heartland, won supporters from every part of the state. Being so central, and removed from the influence of any major metropolitan center, the Nittany Lions were the one major football team that everybody in the state could rally around. In part, it was because families from all over Pennsylvania sent their kids to PSU. Every community bragged of dozens--if not thousands--of Penn State students and alums. PSU was the institution that, more than any other, united the state of Pennsylvania. People were proud to be associated with Penn State, easily one of the very best state colleges in the United States, but they were even more proud to be supporters of Nittany Lion football.

It wasn't just that Penn State had winning football team. Practically, every state has a major college football team that its citizens can be proud of. What Pennsylvania had that no one else could brag of was Joe Paterno. Sure, Paterno had whipped the Penn State football team into a perennial contender for the national title. Everybody loves a winner! But Joe Paterno was more than just a winning college football coach, "JoePa' had class. He wasn't one of those "win at any cost" kind of football coaches. Paterno really cared about education. In fact, to listen to the guy, you would have thought that he was an academic dean ("Study, study, study...!") rather than a legendary college football coach.

Joe Paterno was a gentleman. For Joe, winning football games was secondary. First and foremost, Paterno cared about kids--and not just his own football players. Paterno wanted all kids to grow up and be as successful as they could possibly be.

At least, that's what we were led to believe.


Unfortunately, Joe was not a man of his word. Winning football games did matter to Joe Paterno, and, it has come to light that winning obviously, and distressingly, mattered more to Paterno than the welfare of kids. Winning mattered so much that Joe Paterno, that great and honorable man, was willing to make a deal with the devil. Jerry Sandusky was that devil, and Paterno callously, and calculatingly turned a blind eye to Sandusky's criminal pedophelia--even when Sandusky paraded his loathsome abuses directly under Joe Paterno's nose. Rather than taking steps to protect the poor kids that Sandusky wantonly preyed upon, Paterno employed his considerable clout to cultivate a climate of invulnerability for Sandusky at PSU. Just win, baby! Nothing else matters.

So, in the end, have Jerry Sandusky's atrocities soiled Coach Paterno's otherwise unimpeachable image? You're damn right they have, and Paterno has no one to blame but himself. Paterno labored his whole life to cultivate the image of a principled, altruistic warrior, and, in spite of Paterno's tireless self-aggrandizement, the Sandusky scandal has blasted JoePa's public image to smithereens. Had Paterno cared even one iota for the principles that he professed he would have dumped Sandusky the very instant that he caught wind of his lieutenant's felonious assaults. Instead, Joe Paterno hopped into bed with Sandusky, the monster that Paterno knowingly aided and abetted. What a wretched end for an otherwise (seemingly) noble spirit. It's a hard lesson to learn, but the Sandusky affair makes it clear that there are some things that are worse--much, much worse--than losing a few football games.

Though I'm sure he wished it were otherwise, that will be Joe Paterno's most enduring legacy.


*Photo provided courtesy of PSUMark2006 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.  

 

http://goodscience.sociology.org/

Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at Colorado State University -- Pueblo. Tim's primary research interests are in the areas of science, technology, society (STS) and the future and Tim blogs about those topics at the following sites: The (more...)
 
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In the end, have Jerry Sandusky's atrocities soile... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 4:04:05 AM
First, if Paterno knew about the 1998 investigatio... by Keith Ward on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:09:22 PM
You think this is funny? What part of Joe Paterno'... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:23:52 PM
I find nothing remotely humorous about Sandusky.&n... by Keith Ward on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 5:45:34 PM
Why would Joe Paterno's role have been downplayed ... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 10:53:43 AM
 Counselor John Seasock,opined that  "th... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:39:57 PM
Are you disputing the fact that Sandusky is a seri... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 10:58:47 AM
which it obviously does I would have to say y... by Barry Bozeman on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 6:30:21 AM
Exactly! You didn't mention whether you think Penn... by SherryGT on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 8:37:18 AM
I don't think Pennsylvania taxpayers should be pen... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 10:04:48 AM
It's great to read your well-written and well-thou... by Meryl Ann Butler on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 8:42:21 AM
I would not have begun adding photos if it were no... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 10:06:37 AM
The author makes the assertion that: "Had Paterno ... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 11:24:14 AM
When would you have dumped Sandusky? The first tim... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:17:17 PM
Do you think you can avoid answering my question b... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:47:47 PM
You answered your own question. As far back as the... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 3:33:13 PM
Please tell me about the abundant evidence of Jerr... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 4:20:44 PM
He can start here So you think JOE is a Liar? ... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 5:25:12 PM
Who hired Sandusky? Who conveniently overlooked Sa... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 11:07:05 AM
Hmmm, let's see, one of Joe Paterno's coaches is i... by Timothy McGettigan on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 5:33:18 PM
Sadly, to annoint the Board of Trustees at Penn St... by Keith Ward on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 5:53:31 PM
Certainly, the trustees have their problems, but w... by Timothy McGettigan on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:49:25 AM
Jerry Sandusky, the heir apparent, is inexplicably... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:48:06 PM
From: Tim Curley  Sent: Sunday, June 13, 1999... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 7:20:13 PM
The whole point of the discussion is that Joe Pate... by Timothy McGettigan on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:52:36 AM
and you want to try to justify that by "the whole ... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:15:12 PM
In spite of his monumental success, as a "groomer ... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:56:04 PM
Are you suggesting that coddling, congratulating a... by Timothy McGettigan on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:57:22 AM
In fact anyone reading this message stream will kn... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:18:00 PM
I don't think Joe Paterno is as stupid as you are ... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 11:12:49 AM
For your information, Jerry Sandusky was investiga... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 7:07:06 PM
The facts in demolition of wild assertion and supp... by Barry Bozeman on Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 at 8:43:11 PM
Do you realize that defending Joe Paterno in this ... by Timothy McGettigan on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:09:37 AM
You really have no shame or scruples in a discussi... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:28:19 PM
So, you are determined to clear Joe Paterno of all... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 11:22:52 AM
As a graduate of the University of Tennessee with ... by Barry Bozeman on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 7:08:46 AM
Steve Garban's resignation makes it clear that "th... by Timothy McGettigan on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:04:33 AM
Garban was forced to resign because he failed to i... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:37:16 PM
To Mr Bozeman Please show me where my understandin... by Mike Simons on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:47:37 PM
READ the salient portions of the McQueary testimon... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:13:12 PM
To Barry Thanks for your response.Before I respo... by Mike Simons on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 10:12:37 PM
And Barry, Barryu, Barry! Trying to abstractly an... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 2:43:33 AM
HERE ARE SPECIFIC INDICATIONS THAT YOU DON'T KNOW ... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 3:24:09 AM
McQueary gave three very explicit and very cons... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 3:47:55 AM
The testimonies of McQueary - who's words misus... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 6:15:12 AM
I always heard that Joe Paterno had to be a genius... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 12:31:24 PM
What a dumb question - he was neither and anyone t... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 4:18:08 PM
Tim not knowing the information he has provided wa... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 8:16:23 PM
BarryYOU  "Tim not knowing the information he... by Mike Simons on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 12:42:26 AM
Mike - I even have a forum set up for that purpose... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 2:39:26 AM
To BarryI understand your request to dialogue via ... by Mike Simons on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 1:10:46 AM
TO BarryI understand your desire to share our give... by Mike Simons on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 1:16:09 AM
Again, I've corrected so many of your statements w... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 2:51:07 AM
If Joe Paterno was running for president, you woul... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 12:34:13 PM
I don't have to Say what they are. They are in the... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 4:19:49 PM
Please show me where my understanding of Showe... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 4:46:38 AM
Mike, Thanks for your input and your perspect... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 11:24:37 AM
Having been meticulously presented with fact you o... by Barry Bozeman on Friday, Jul 20, 2012 at 7:58:47 PM
Barry, You are correct. I have been remiss. I... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 12:37:41 PM
Then when did the law mandating reporting to your ... by Barry Bozeman on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 4:22:56 PM
You may not think it is a crime that Joe Paterno f... by Timothy McGettigan on Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 at 5:54:18 PM
MINE. ... by Barry Bozeman on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 6:31:22 AM
Hey Barry, Did you see today's headlines? "Pe... by Timothy McGettigan on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 11:59:03 AM
Of course I read the newsHe's not some villain eit... by Barry Bozeman on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 2:00:23 PM
Anyone who aids, abets, and even encourages crimin... by Timothy McGettigan on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 3:37:08 PM
I think the NCAA and the new leadership at PSU hav... by Timothy McGettigan on Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 3:41:28 PM