‘JoePa’ legacy lives on

January 26, 2012





Naomi Allison
News Editor

To some, Joseph Vincent Paterno, the late football coach at Penn State, is a heartless pedophile-supporter who should burn in hell, while to others, he is a saint and the epitome of college coaching excellence.


Yet despite the mixed opinions of others, I couldn’t help but experience a myriad of emotions, both anger and sadness, as I saw images of teary-eyed students, community members gathering at Paterno’s bronze statue in Beaver Stadium, amid frigid 20 degree weather, to mourn his death.


After all, it seemed that until the last few months, Joe Paterno had it all. “JoePa” ruled Penn State campus with unchallenged authority, a charming smile and confident swagger. He was known for his thick glasses and grey hair.


From a career perspective, he had won 409 victories, given 4 million in charity, taken the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships, had more than 250 of his players join the NFL and even had an ice-cream flavor named after him called “Peachy Paterno.”


In a nutshell, no one was more revered by Penn State University and its students than Paterno, over the past few decades.
However, his life changed in an instant.  It was disturbing to watch his demise.


Paterno, who died Sunday at 85, was fired Nov. 9 by the Penn State trustees for not going to the police in 2002 when he was told former assistant Jerry Sandusky had been seen molesting a boy in the showers at the football complex.


Sandusky was charged with  sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period, while Paterno walked away with a broken career and shattered life.


According to the Washington Post, a week before his death, Paterno was confined to a wheelchair after breaking his hip  one month after his firing. He had to wear a wig from losing his hair to radiation and chemotherapy.


It left many wondering whether his heartbreaking firing somehow hastened his death. It also sparked the idea of how Paterno would and should be remembered.


“His legacy is without question as far as I’m concerned,” said 65-year-old Ed Hill of Altoona, PA., a football season ticket-holder for 35 years. “The Board of Trustees threw him to the wolves. I think Joe was a scapegoat nationally. I’m heartbroken.”


When it comes to Dr. Sam Sommers, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University, people’s beliefs, including those about Paterno, are all about perception.


“A lot of people are as passionate about sports as they are about religion and political beliefs,” he said. You get two sports fans talking about a close call at first base and, it’s not that they’re lying to each other, they legitimately see the reality differently.”


Dr. David Solly, a professor of psychology at the University of the Rockies, said it was the cognitive dissonance, the natural ability to reject new information simply because its so much opposed to what you’ve known to be true in the past.


“We basically start out with attitudes towards someone based on the experience we’ve had. And those will move to beliefs, which are a little stronger,” he said. “And then, once that’s reinforced over time, we basically develop values. The values are highly prized, they’re things we vigorously fight to defend and I think in terms of the Penn State folks, they’ve come to know and love Joe Paterno and believe in him and they firmly believe that he did nothing wrong.”


Last but not least, the Paterno family released a statement and said, “As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact. That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country.”


Though I am disgusted by child-abuse scandal and Paterno’s inability to handle the situation effectively, my one dream is that I hope other individuals can learn from situations like these, and not make the same mistake.


To persecute a man after his death seems to be a waste of energy and time. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, some more skeletons than others.


Naomie Allison is a junior journalism major from West Lake who serves as news editor for The Tech Talk. Email comments to nsa008@latech.edu.




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