How Should We Remember Joe Paterno?

What should Paterno's lasting legacy be?

It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback using our 20/20 hindsight to question what someone else did or did not do in a delicate situation. Such questioning of Joe Paterno’s ’50 actions have forever tarnished the reputation of a legend.

In 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary informed Paterno that he observed former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky fondling a young boy in the shower. Paterno reported the incident to his immediate superior, athletic director Tim Curley, and to Gary Schultz, former vice president of Pennsylvania State University. When asked by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post why he failed to report the incident any further than that, Paterno responded, “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

Should Paterno have followed up more thoroughly, perhaps by personally contacting the police? Paterno would agree that he should have. Does that mean we should remember Paterno primarily by his involvement in the scandal? I would say no.

Even as Paterno slowly died from cancer, heart heavy with regret, people from all over the country attacked his character. There is a Facebook group titled “Joe Paterno is just as guilty as Jerry Sandusky.” I would question the moral judgment of anyone who sincerely believes Paterno’s actions were on par with those of Sandusky.

Let’s look at some of the highlights of Paterno’s life just as the Penn State students who mourned the death of one of their heroes did. With 409 wins, he is the only coach in NCAA Division I-A to reach 400 wins. His team was undefeated in five separate years and participated in 37 bowl games, of which they won 24. Penn State football players have also been recognized for their academic performance under his leadership.

Paterno encouraged athletes to prioritize their academics. Through a conviction he brought from Brown, Paterno advocated “not football that puts winning first, but first-class football played by students who put first-class lives first.” Paterno also donated more than $4 million and helped raise $14 million to fund a library at Penn State.

Joe Paterno’s involvement in the Sandusky scandal proves that he is not perfect. He is only human, which makes all his achievements all the more impressive. I am proud to call Joe Paterno a Brown alum. May he rest in peace.


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