Our View: Sex abuse scandal tarnished Paterno’s legacy

It’s been a whirlwind of sadness for the Paterno family over the past few months. Since long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired from his job last November after being tied to a child sex abuse scandal, the grief has kept piling up. Paterno was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer only weeks after his dismissal, but his condition worsened over the next couple months until he lost the battle on January 22.

Some argue that Paterno was the greatest coach in college sports history, and in some instances they are right. Paterno coached the team for 46 years and holds the record for the most victories in NCAA Division I Football Subdivision with 409. In Paterno’s tenure, he managed to kick start over 250 NFL football careers. Many others would say Paterno was a great influence on their life outside of football as well.

However, even with all the success Paterno had throughout his years it’s important to realize that the legendary coach was still just a man. A man who had to make decisions outside of the playbook that would affect both his life and the lives of others who were more vulnerable than him.

There are few crimes more difficult to defend than sexual abuse of children. There have been many accused of committing these acts, whether they’re found guilty or not, who have had their legacies tainted. Michael Jackson was accused of child sex abuse multiple times throughout his life and it’s safe to say that even after his death his legacy was still tarnished. Also, the trust in the Catholic Church has been greatly stressed since their own child sex abuse cover-up.

However, Paterno was never directly involved in the act of child sex abuse. He was fired because he never reported the allegations against the former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky after he was arrested and charged. Sandusky’s disgusting behavior had been known to taken place in the locker room for years, yet Paterno and the rest of his staff never mentioned it to their superiors. This is something that can’t be ignored.

Those defending Paterno would say that he had a lapse in judgment when it came to not reporting Sandusky. Others argue that Paterno was forced to fall on his own sword when Penn State made the decision to fire him because it was the only way the school could make it look like they were moving in the right direction. However, Paterno was an 85-year-old man, with much wisdom and knowledge behind him. For Paterno to make a decision as ill-thought out as this one means that even a well-respected coach can make a poor decision.

It’s however extremely unfair to say Paterno deserved this to happen to him. It was a coincidence for Paterno’s health to deteriorate as quickly as it did following the scandal and his termination. But of course at the age of 85 everyone’s health is fragile.

In the end there is no way for Paterno to play his way out of this corner. His legacy as a college football coach will never be forgotten, but his poor decision making off the field should never be set aside either. A career in football can be looked at just like a game, no matter what happens through the first four quarters it all comes down to the last two minutes. In Paterno’s two-minute drill he fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line.

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