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Debating Joe Paterno's Legacy

Position A: (Anonymous)

In reflection of the recent debate in the honoring of Penn State’s football coach, Joe Paterno, opinions appear to be extremely one sided. Prior to the scandal, when anyone referenced Penn State, whether in the world of sports or academics, the majority would describe this university as a prestigious school. Many credit this reputation to Joe Paterno and the legacy that he built while coaching football. It’s important to realize the time in which Paterno instilled this mindset into his recruitment, student-athletes, and university at large. During this time coaches paid little to no mind to academics as they knew their contracts were riding on successful seasons, not on the grade point averages of their players. Paterno devised the “Grand Experiment” to recruit athletes who not only could compete, but who would perform in the classroom as well. Paterno’s ideology surrounding academics was rare among college athletics during this era. This benefited the whole as I imagine it would be difficult to coach any other sport and represent the institution alongside the most winningest coach in college football and not adopt the same philosophy that academics is as powerful as athletics. This movement created an academic culture that allows Penn State to be one of the most important public universities in the nation. In 2011, an article by Kathy Webley in Time magazine reviewed an analysis by the New American Foundation that reported “Penn State graduates 80% of its football players in six years or less and also shows no achievement gap between its black and white players, which NAF says is extremely rare for Division I football teams.” Note this comparison to the division 1 football average graduation rate within 4 years at 67% in 2008 (Penn, 2008). Needless to say, Paterno’s Grand Experiment produced great academic success and sets a standard for all university athletic programs.

We reference collegiate players as student-athletes. Paterno practiced the preaching that first they are students and then they are athletes. When it comes to athletics, his players also fulfilled extraordinary feats. According to an ESPN online article, Paterno coached 78 first-team All-Americans and produced 350 NFL players, 33 of whom were selected in the first round draft (Maisel, 2011). The list of Paterno’s awards, bowl wins, records, and career wins can easily be accessed on the internet (Wikipedia has this all broken down for quick reference). The point here is to bring light to the student-athletes that Paterno impacted in a positive way. He valued academics, class, humility, and athleticism. He understood that professional competition wasn’t the future of all of his athletes, so he encouraged them to be more than a football player.

This response by no means is intended to ignore the wrongdoings and abuse that the victims of the Sandusky scandal incurred. What is being overlooked is the fact that this is the SANDUSKY scandal and not the Joe Paterno scandal. In his last months Paterno admits that he wished he had done more to help these young men. However, Paterno was not the criminal inflicting the abuse. He arguably withheld information or pleaded ignorance yet he appears to be receiving the brunt of the blame for physical acts that he did not commit. Paterno died a man with guilt and as the coach who was fired from the institution he nearly single handedly put on the map in college sports and academics. What I hope readers gain from this is that Paterno was a human being. A man of admitted mistakes. He was also a man who deserved to be treated with dignity and worth. For all of the alumni of Penn State and current students, my hope is that their commitments, successes, and contributions to the world won’t be overshadowed by a sick man who is serving the sentence for his crimes. I also hope that when they see the Paterno name on their library or are awareded scholarships bearing this name that they receive these encounters with pride as Joe Paterno truly wished the best for his students, athletes, and beloved Penn State.


Maisel, I. 2011. Maisel; Joe Paterno’s Legacy. ESPN. November 9, 2011. Retrieved 9-25-2016.

"Penn State Football Student-Athletes Earn No. 2 Graduation Rate Among AP Top 25 Teams". Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics. October 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-31.

Webley, K. 2011. Paterno’s Payback? Penn State Football Is No. 1 in Academic Bowl. TIME. December 7, 2011. Retrieved 9-25-2016.

Position B: (Dr. Emmett Gill)

Last weekend, Penn State University honored former football coach Joe Paterno by celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first season coaching the Nittany Lions. The 100,000 fans who attended the game — with the exception of some Temple fans — stood and cheered and honored a man who, for all the good things he did for, (pause) and via football, enabled decades of abuse of young boys. Paterno was either ignorant, oblivious or just didn’t care and each.... or all three... are reasons not to honor Paterno.

From my viewpoint, Paterno is nothing more than a selfish football coach who protected a serial sexual abuser to his benefit and the benefit of the Penn State University football program. Earlier this summer, when trying to sort out insurance payments to victims, it was revealed that Paterno was aware of the sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky as far back as 1976. One of the victims testified that after Sandusky put his finger in the victims rectum that he told Paterno. According to the victim, Joe “Accessory to Sexual Abuse” said, “I don't want to hear about any of that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about?'" OK (pause) say that conversation never happened well some Joe Pa’s assistant coaches apparently knew. According to the testimony of Michael McQuerry, at least two other assistant coaches, Tom Bradley and Greg Schiano, knew of the abuse. We know that in college football whether it's in 2016 or 1986 - assistant coaches let head coaches know EVERTHANG... and I mean EVERYTHANG! We cannot dismiss these testimonies and conclude Paterno was oblivious.

Before I close let me make sure I get this in - football and religion are synonymous. And if God pays attention to college football or college programs - he will to Penn State. Penn State will never, and I mean never, ever win another national title until they repent for the sins of Paterno, Graham Spanier, Timothy Curley, Gary Schultz, Jerry Sandusky and all who enabled these crimes against vulnerable children. I think the world of Penn State AD Sandy Barbour and cannot believe that she would willingly co sign on an effort to honor a pedophile protector. And let me also say I think the world of James Franklin and wish him no ill will but the ebb and flow of the universe will never shine on that disgraced football program in SAD valley.

Much love to to the Temple fans who said “He (Joe Paterno) turned his back - we'll turn ours!

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