Thoughts on JoePa, one year later

Posted by on January 23, 2013

I was in the shower the morning of January 22, 2012, when my wife told me Joe Paterno had died.  Not unexpected, as he was gravely ill, and rumors had flown the prior night that he had passed away.

Still, I remember that pang in the gut, almost as if a family member had died.  Joe Paterno and Penn State football had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember.

A year later, like so many Penn Staters I imagine, I am still trying to come to terms with the end of his life.

I certainly didn’t know Paterno well, having interviewed him a couple dozen times from my student days until he brought Derrick Williams and a few other recruits to York on a revival tour in 2005.  He was never easy to deal with as a member of the media, but in that regard, he is hardly unique in the sports world, or any other.

As a Penn State grad, I remain proud of the program Paterno ran.  His players went to class and graduated.  I can tell you first hand of seeing players in mandatory study hall, and of a future NFL player who stiffed me and others in my radio production class group by rarely showing up to class, who sat out the next football season because of bad grades.

I remain proud and grateful for the contribution the Paternos made to the school, including the library.  Joe put Penn State on the national map, and brought in, by some accounts, more than a billion dollars in donations to the school over his lifetime.  I have said before, I can’t imagine any other single individual doing more for or meaning more to a university in the last century. 

Quite simply, Joe Paterno was the face of Penn State.

His firing and subsequent disgrace in the eyes of many for his apparent inaction on the Sandusky scandal still at times seems surreal.  It just doesn’t square with the Paterno we all thought we knew.

Many still feel he simply didn’t realize the gravity of the situaiton.  He passed on the report he got to his superiors, and fulfilled his legal duty. 

The Freeh Report paints a darker picture, saying Paterno knew of the 1998 investigation and indicating he urged school officials not to file a report with state authorities.  

We will never get Joe’s first hand account of this.  More may come out in the upcoming trials of school officials.

For myself, I cannot overlook what is at least a grave error in judgement.  But, I also cannot overlook six decades of dedication to and love for my school.  Joe Paterno touched thousands and thousands of lives in a positive way.

One year after his death, I still don’t know what my final thoughts on Joe will be.  But, I also still believe he must be judged by all he did, not just by one episode in a long life.

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