Honoring an enabler
October 16, 2016
On Sept. 17, 2016, the Nittany Lions marching band and cheerleading squad took the field and performed for the fans in the stands of Beaver Stadium. Videos streamed from the big-screens for a stroll down memory lane – but some memories were left out at this game against Temple, where both teams expressed their anti-Paterno beliefs.
They honored a man deemed the “winningest coach” in Penn State history; a man who made a name for the Lions’ football team; a man the school learned to love and trust in his 46 years of coaching. They honored an enabler.
In November 2011, Penn State fired their famed coach, who passed away of lung cancer less than a year later, after the details of a sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky emerged. Paterno supposedly knew about Sandusky’s revolting actions, yet he never directly interfered in the scandal. Some would call it turning a blind eye, and still others would deem it one of the most shameful occurrences in all of college football history.
The college football world would have it that the fanbase and alumni simply came together one final time to pay their respects to their most famed and respected coach, but for the nation, it signified something deeper, as hydrogen peroxide stings a wound.
But let’s back up a moment and talk college football history.
Indeed, the scandal affected the team, the coaching staff, and the entire Penn State community. This felony, however, did not involve the way the game was played, or the way Joe Paterno won 409 games as head coach (he holds the record for most wins of any Division I coach), or the way he took his team to the national championship twice.
Now this does not excuse Paterno for trying to cover up Sandusky’s multiple accounts of child rape and sex abuse on campus for years before the assistant coach was finally arrested. To take down Paterno’s statue, even after the records and memories he made for the university itself, seems a bit too melodramatic.
Even the Penn State newspaper, “The Daily Collegian”, disagrees with me.
In a staff editorial, Penn State’s Board of Opinion brazenly condemned the university’s decision to honor the late Paterno, claiming their school “a Penn State without Joe Paterno… is still trying to rebuild, make amends and propel forward,” and that “he is no longer a community hero.” In other words, they believe it time to leave him in the past.
Sept. 17 marked the day Paterno debuted as Penn State’s head coach fifty years ago in 1966. Fifty years of raising the program up and leading it through its highs and lows. Lions fans refer to him as “Joe Pa” for a reason; he was their hero, their rock and their father figure.
The nation may call it honoring an enabler, if they so choose. But on Sept. 17, 2016 – in the stadium that opened on Sept. 17, 1960, where Joe Paterno debuted as head coach on Sept. 17, 1966 – The Pennsylvania State University honored the most revered figure in college football history for his achievements on the field.