Joe Paterno's Legacy: Protect Players At All Costs

Play associated audio

It is not facetious to say that dying may not have been the worst thing to happen to Joe Paterno this past year.

Has ever anyone in sport suffered such a tarnishing of his character in such a short period of time? Especially now as new allegations — exposed in leaked emails from other Penn State officials — suggest that the sainted JoePa was not merely passive when confronted with eyewitness evidence of Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia but was, in fact, an influential voice in deciding that Sandusky should not be reported to law enforcement.

It's interesting that from the very first, when it was understood that the coach had not responded with sufficient urgency, the prevailing question became: How will this affect Paterno's legacy? That was especially revealing of Paterno's reputation, because legacy is seldom a common point of debate in sport.

After all, defining legacy in sport is easy. It's simply measurable: How many touchdowns? How many wins? How many championships? Oh, a few athletes like Billie Jean King or Jackie Robinson do possess a genuine legacy, and there is no doubt that Paterno had gained a special esteem beyond his record.

Ironically, he had obtained this status because big-time college football is such a contradiction. On the one hand, it's the sport that is most glamorously a social part of our culture. College football is more than just a game — it's a weekend. Alumni return to campus for what? For homecoming. And homecoming is a football game. Football coaches are the maitres d' of college.

But, curiously, it is also understood that college football is, off the field, deceitful and corrupt. How strange this sweet home that we love. But that is why Paterno is supposed to have earned a legacy as well as a record, for he was held up as different — as an honest man succeeding in a dodgy enterprise.

He was of college football, but above it.

Everyone knows that the key to winning as a big-time coach is keeping your players eligible. Some of that effort is legal, some not. Give the players tutors and gut courses, or even have someone write term papers for them. Get the campus police and the local cops to cooperate. Hey, boys will be boys. Overlook. Blind eye. Forgive them their trespasses as game day approaches. Keep them eligible.

Joe Paterno was a football coach all of his long, adult life. Like all coaches, after a while, keeping your players eligible is second nature.

When his old assistant was in trouble, that must've kicked in. Joe Paterno kept Jerry Sandusky eligible. If he has a legacy, that's it.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Credibility Concerns Overshadow Release Of Gay Talese's New Book

NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Paul Farhi of the Washington Post about Gay Talese's new book, The Voyeur's Hotel. The credibility of the book, which follows a self-proclaimed sex researcher who bought a hotel to spy on his guests through ventilator windows, has been called into question after Farhi uncovered problems with Talese's story.
NPR

Amid Craft Brewery Boom, Some Worry About A Bubble — But Most Just Fear Foam

Fueled by customers' unquenchable thirst for the next great flavor note, the craft beer industry has exploded like a poorly fermented bottle of home brew.
NPR

White House Documents Number Of Civilians Killed In U.S. Drone Strikes

The Obama administration issued a long awaited report Friday, documenting the number on civilians who have been accidentally killed by U.S. drone strikes. Human rights activists welcome the administration's newfound transparency, though some question whether the report goes far enough.
NPR

Tesla 'Autopilot' Crash Raises Concerns About Self-Driving Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a fatal crash involving a Tesla car using the "autopilot" feature. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Alex Davies of Wired about the crash and what it means for self-driving car technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.