It wasn’t long ago when Joe Paterno, now in love and memory of what he left behind at Penn State, talked with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post to give his side of the story publicly on his failure to notify authorities that Jerry Sandusky, his former assistant coach, allegedly had molested young boys.

It’s a tragic ending to what once was a touching story for an elderly man, who lived out his final days in the center of an everlasting scandal that involved a football staff member. This disheartened chapter of not reporting and ostensibly keeping a secret from the police came years after his sick-minded defensive coordinator molested underage children by seducing and manipulating misinformed boys through the Second Mile charity he ran for unprivileged kids. Doesn’t it figure, then, that Paterno’s legacy would be called into question with thoughts of his image possibly being tarnished forever, even after his death?

It’s insensitive to speak ill of the decease, but whether it’s right or morally wrong, an egregious scandal doesn’t erase 62 years of extraordinary coaching when Paterno touched the lives of many young men and served as the moral compass for a university he placed on the map academically and athletically, a legacy that won’t ever be marked with an asterisk. Paterno, as the winningest major college football coach, famously died shortly after he coached his 323rd college victory and had been fired for his mishandling of child sex-abuse allegations leveled against Sandusky.

It was sad, admittedly, to see him deteriorate and climb into his deathbed, unable to accept the fact that he had been fired from his livelihood, a passion in his life, deprived of his sanity and will to live. For all the shame in the Sandusky case, as the most likable man on campus, he’ll always have his supporters and non-supporters, a pariah to some, or virtually a hero to others. But even in the twilight of his darkened, nebulous legacy, as one of the university’s most interesting and powerful men, Paterno had a large impact on children’s lives that enriched the nature of Penn State football.

By now, in his death, maybe we can reflect back on what he achieved at Penn State as a well-accomplished coach, what his life meant for an emotional university and not only judge his life on a hideous scandal that occurred weeks ago. The last chapter for Paterno ended with a sex-abuse scandal and apparently is inevitable as victims or families can’t help but to have bitterness, not compassion for a man who never prevented a pedophile from lurking on campus and molesting young boys. From now until eternally, he might be marked from the Sandusky mess, thrust in a position after failing to do more by not reporting such a gruesome crime that he may have known about before news surfaced on the allegations and literally stunned the Penn State community.
The truly great ones measured by personal excellence normally cement an unbreakable legacy, and Paterno built such a special bond with kids, a connection no player of his can ever forget. It turns out that he died not only a legend, but in his role as a father-figure for many kids on campus. The impact was far beyond incredible, and indeed, he was the school’s most endearing man but unfortunately he descended for the worse, once the scandal publicly damaged Penn State’s integrity and reputation. Parents are now, simply and understandably, furious with the allegations of sexual abuse that happened under Paterno’s watch.

He somberly pushed. He pushed. And he pushed, until he couldn’t push much longer. But like many old legends — including the moment when legendary coach Woody Hayes infamously threw a punch at Charlie Bauman that cost him the Ohio State job – Paterno will be projected as one of the all-time greats, claiming a place in history, despite the stain that somewhat damaged an obscure legacy. The darkness of this wretched, nauseating event will forever hover over his achievements and deeds at Penn State, where he had a connection and had largely been an influential figure that molded kids to stay motivated and perform diligently.

The mystery now is whether he’ll be remembered for the greatest moments of his monumental career, following his convoluted, puzzling death. He died Sunday at State College, Pa., hospital, fighting the battle of lung cancer but was in his final days to sadly end in the aftermath of this sickening scandal. Sure enough, he lived to be 85. As any supporter familiar with the honors and principles of a man who seemingly had family ties at the university, slowly saw Paterno become a fallen legendary coach when his spotless legacy was rocked Nov. 5, 2011.

This story was complicated, the arguments were intense, but even if a grand jury indicted Paterno’s former assistant, Sandusky, of several counts of sexual abuse of young boys, nonetheless we can’t overlook the good memories he left behind. He was stuck in a mess for not doing more to prevent Sandusky. There are entirely mixed vibes for many of whom, including Penn State’s Board of Trustees, were upset that he had not done more to stop the sexual activities from getting worse.

The situation now is that Penn State must recover from a hideous scandal, but it’s going to take years to repair one’s image – an issue the school is presently living with, when allegations of misconduct emanated of sex crimes in 2002. Paterno was not only a coaching figure, he might have been the best fatherly townsperson, and was even given the nickname JoePa that theorized his father-figure characteristics not just to his players, not just to the Penn State students but the entire community. He was largely a lovable icon in State College, a small town in Pennsylvania where he could have ran for mayor and easily would have unanimously swept the voting polls.

If anyone is worth remembering to the fullest, it’s Paterno himself. His inspiration, enlightenment and encouragement to reach the mind’s of children was so immense that seemingly he can never be forgotten. For decades and generations to come, he’ll own a shred of honors in Penn State athletics, if not within the entire university, where he provided wisdom and inspired children as a noteworthy role model on campus, liked for his donations and commitment to one school.

If you think of Paterno, you think of a kindhearted human being for giving millions of dollars back to the school. If you think of him, you think of the library on campus named after him and his wife, Sue. If you think of him, you think of a guy from Brooklyn, a humbled and knowledgeable icon, at his best, teaching kids valuable lessons. With the level of accomplishments, he was the winningest college football coach all-time, piling on a 409-136-3 record. Rarely has a coach won two national titles and finished with four undefeated seasons. He was wholly unbelievable, leading the Nittany Lions to national title victories in 1982 and 1986.

As your basic guy, he wore his thick glasses and cuffed pants, advising alumni to take great pride in their university, particularly at Penn State where he had been the symbol of the program for many years, even after he was dismissed in what was an unhappy ending. It seemed, believe it or not, he was more than just a college coach. And as it usually turns out in death situations, people from all walks of life have nothing but nice things to say about Paterno. But it was now that he was remembered for being an advocate of a tradition and accommodated playoff system. In his final days, the scandal was too much to weigh, too much to handle, too much on his heart as Paterno’s beautiful story had disappeared into the darkness of a sex scandal no one ever imagined.

This will forever cloud Paterno’s legacy, but it won’t ever be forgotten. The Sandusky case has torn apart a life of achievements, values and inspiration, though it won’t ever end or smear a legacy completely.

You won’t ever forget the awful moments, nor will you forget the generations of his wonderful life.
Written by Jonathan Mathis, Columnist (Archive/RSS)

An aspiring sports journalist, a sports columnist for three sports sites. Sports Judge is all sports. Follow @Jon9685


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