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Joe Paterno's Legacy Is Up to You: Let's Look at the Facts

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Joe Paterno's Legacy Is Up to You: Let's Look at the Facts
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How should Paterno be remembered?

At every turn in the Penn State tragedy, the news is the most horrific possible. At every opportunity for the ugliness to subside just a little, it only gets worse.

Thursday’s release of the exhaustive report prepared by former FBI Director Louis Freeh made it very clear that the four most senior Penn State officials not only failed to report the most heinous of crimes but then covered everything up. And lied.

Let’s not kid anybody, this story has the legs it does because it involved the most iconic college football coach we’ve known in quite some time. Not only the winningest coach of all time, but a coach who preached “Success with Honor.” Whose name is on the library and not the football stadium.

JoePa raised millions for education at Penn State and made sure his players graduated. He stayed clear of NCAA violations. Those are undeniable facts.

It’s also undeniable now that Paterno played a huge role—we’ll discuss in a second—in this unspeakable tragedy. A role that seems to go against every rock solid belief we had about him. It’s like two Joe Paternos that refuse to be reconciled. But that’s what a look at someone’s life is, a reconciliation. We all hope the good side of the ledger outweighs the bad.

We know the good. The 409 wins achieved with nary an NCAA violation. The emphasis on his players’ education. The millions of dollars raised that got the school library named after he and his wife. Those things happened. They weren’t fake.

But other things happened. Paterno put “the program” above all else and ran it with an iron fist.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Beaver Stadium: The Kingdom

In April of 2007 as many as two dozen Penn State football players were involved in an off campus fight. Despite the Paterno family claiming Joe never used email, this was sent to University officials:

“I want to make sure everyone understands that the discipline of the players involved will be handled by me as soon as I am comfortable that I know all the facts.” The April 7, 2007 email was signed Joe.

The response from then Penn State President Graham Spanier? “This is my understanding as well.”

Then Vice President of Student Affairs, Vicky Triponey, wrote back, “Thanks for sharing. I assume he is talking about discipline relative to TEAM rules. (note: he does not say that.) Obviously discipline relative to the law is up to the police and the courts and discipline relative to violations of the student code of conduct is the responsibility of Judicial Affairs.”

Triponey continues, “This has not always been clear with Coach Paterno so we might want to clarify that and encourage him to work with us to find the truth and handle this collaboratively with the police and the university.” She went on, “The challenge here is that the letter suggests that football should handle this and now Coach Paterno is also saying THEY will handle this and makes it look like the normal channels will be ignored for football players.”

“Can you remind them of police and university responsibility?”

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Does Paterno deserve a statue?

The police charged six players, with two pleading guilty to misdemeanors. The University did suspend four players, but none missed any games.

This isn’t the only instance where Paterno’s hold on the kingdom was evident. And like the claim to never using email, there’s no other way to put it but it appears he frequently lied about his knowledge of and involvement in things.

Paterno testified to the Grand Jury in January of 2011 that he didn’t know about the alleged sexual abuse incident involving Jerry Sandusky back in 1998. And yet one of the emails uncovered in the recent Freeh investigation was sent from then Athletic Director Tim Curley to Vice President Gary Schultz on May 13, 1998. The subject was “Jerry”. “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” It’s no stretch at all to conclude “Coach” is Joe Paterno.

On February 10, 2001 graduate assistant Mike McQueary met with Paterno to tell him he had seen Sandusky in the shower with a boy about ten years old the evening before. The words Paterno used to McQueary are telling, “You did what you had to do. It’s my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Don’t for one second doubt that the Nittany Lion Kingdom was run solely by Joe Paterno. And the Kingdom was about the crumble.

On February 12, 2001 Spanier Schultz and Curley met. Spanier’s notes said that he spoke with Curley about the 1998 incident and that Curley would speak with Joe and then meet with Sandusky.

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They came up with a three-point plan of action:

1. Tell Sandusky to avoid bringing children alone into the Lasch Football Building.

2 .Report the 2001 incident to the Department of Public Welfare.

3. Report the incident to the Chairman of the Board of the Second Mile Charity that Sandusky was involved with.

On February 27, 2001 Curley emails Schultz and Spanier that he has changed his mind after more thought and talking with Joe. His new proposal is to tell Sandusky, “we feel there’s a ‘problem’ and we will offer him ‘professional help’.”

If Sandusky is cooperative then work with him on informing Second Mile and if he isn’t cooperative then inform the Department of Public Works.

Spanier: “This approach is acceptable to me. The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

Humane to Sandusky. Welcome to the Nittany Lion’s old boys network.

Another clue to the abhorrent behavior by those at the top? A May 5, 1998 note by Gary Schultz. “Is this the opening of pandora’s box? Other children?”

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Was Paterno worshipped to a fault?

According to the Freeh report, neither Spanier, Curley, Schultz or Paterno ever spoke to Jerry Sandusky about the 1998 incident. The one that was investigated by the State College police.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Don’t for one second think  Penn State is the only college in this country where the football coach lords over the kingdom.  Paterno may have been there longer and won more games, but there are many coaches with the same power.

This was an issue of a sick man allowed to flourish in a system corrupt with out of whack values about football. Had Sandusky been the defensive coordinator at any of a few SEC or Big 12 schools, the same thing could have played out. I’m not picking on those two conferences, just using them as an example.

So where does this leave the legacy of Joe Paterno? Can one part of a person’s life wipe out the other parts? That’s up to each individual to decide. For many, that depends on the severity of each part of the person’s life.

I believe that if the bad is bad enough, then yes it can wipe out the good. There’s no question in my mind that’s the case with Joe Paterno for me.

What he did and didn’t do is inexcusable. Should his statue be taken down at Penn State? My original thought was yes, but I do think that ESPN’s Buster Olney had a good idea, speaking on ESPN Radio Friday morning: Move it to a viewing area and then include details of the Sandusky tragedy. Let people view the whole body of work and make their own decision.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims in this horror. While the money you are about to receive is deserved, I know that it won’t totally relieve the pain. I pray that in time, it will dissipate.

Follow me on Twitter@sprtsramblngman

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