Louis Freeh Penn State Report: Joe Paterno's Legacy Is Scarred but Not Ruined
It's okay to hate Joe Paterno.
That's something that would be utter heresy even nine months ago, to say nothing of the 45 years prior, but yes: It's okay to hate Joe Paterno. It would be a mistake, however, to hate everything about him.
Louis Freeh's report on Penn State's handling (or mishandling, if we're being honest) of Jerry Sandusky and the resultant scandal was released on Thursday morning. It's not good for Joe Paterno and his legacy, but it's also really not good for Penn State and its administrators as a whole.
How does the Freeh Report affect your view of Joe Paterno?
So as we consider what this means for the way Paterno will be regarded through the years, unquestionably his standing is nowhere near what it was the day before the Sandusky news broke. It's also unlikely that he'll get any measure of exoneration from all this; we have the closest thing possible to a definitive, exhaustive report of how Paterno affected the investigation of Sandusky, and it was disgraceful.
But to mark this insensitivity to Sandusky's victims as being indicative of Paterno's entire legacy would be a disservice to the entire man Joe Paterno was or what he strove for. His was not a cult of personality—or if it was, he was the most passive, reluctant cult leader ever.
No, for what Paterno publicly preached, he also practiced. He said he wanted a football program that succeeded academically, and what he got was a 78 percent graduation rate—and that started long before graduation rates were even a thing the general public was remotely interested in.
He and his wife encouraged loyalty to Penn State, and to that end he not only served as head coach of the Nittany Lions for nearly half a century, he donated millions back to the school, never engaged in contract disputes angling for a bigger paycheck, and established and funded a scholarship program there.
Even the design of the uniforms was remarkable austere. Certainly the uniforms weren't cheap and the players were never left to wear rags, but in an age where uniform manufacturers are increasingly dependent on novelty and flair, Penn State plugged along with its plain blue and white uniforms, bare white helmets (sometimes with the indulgence of a single stripe), and nameless jerseys.
He also set the major college record for wins as a football coach.
Now with all that, yes, he played a terrible role in helping to protect Jerry Sandusky as Sandusky abused numerous young boys in and around Penn State facilities. That is Joe Paterno's great, tragic sin. There is no explaining that. Again, it is okay to hate him for that reason.
But the only things connecting Paterno's "Grand Experiment" as a football coach and Paterno's protection of Sandusky is Paterno himself. That he failed to recognize and stop a child predator is inexcusably bad, but the only way it invalidates everything he worked for is if your predilection is to work in absolutes and find excuses to ignore as much as you can.
If so, fine, there are a lot of people like that, but just realize that a lack of critical thinking is what got Penn State into this mess in the first place, and the more you think in absolutes, the less you actually think.
Joe Paterno's legacy isn't tarnished. Tarnish comes off. Paterno's legacy is deeply and irrevocably scarred, and past the point of redemption at that. But at the very least, what he strove for is what we should all strive for, and it would be a disservice to ourselves and those around us to lose sight of that fact.
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