Why We Shouldn't Idolize and Memorialize Joe Paterno


Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno will be remembered at a memorial service in Harrisburg, Pa., on Wednesday. The service has been arranged by Penn State alumni, and is primarily for family, friends, and former players.

According to Newsradio 1070 WKOK, "Paterno died last month after a brief battle with lung cancer."

At the time I wrote a PolicyMic piece highlighting Paterno's complicated history. In that article, I outlined reasons not to memorialize this man, as many have since done. I have mixed feelings about Joe Pa. We should, of course, remember Paterno as a man, a human being, and not desicrate his image unnecessarily. But we should also not forget the legacy Paterno will now always have because of Jerry Sandusky, and Paterno's inability to correctly manage that situation. 

There have been a number of high-level public and media-worthy memorials for Joe Pa that have made headlines. In late January in particular, a public memorial service for Paterno was held at Penn State with 10,000 free tickets to the event being snapped up in 7 minutes.

According to Reuters, the event was filled with "supporters choosing to remember how he built a hugely successful and profitable college football program rather than his fall from grace for failing to alert police to a child sexual abuse scandal involving an assistant."

And that's the problem: people want to forget about Jerry Sandusky. Many times these memorials have focused on the grand history of Paterno as a coach, not on Paterno the villain. This is a complete travesty.

In early November, news broke that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had allegedly sexually abused a number of young boys while working under Paterno. In one 2002 instance in particular, it was reported that Sandusky sodomized a young boy in the Penn State locker room showers. Paterno apparently knew of the specific incident, but delayed telling school administrators (instead of police or proper authorities, btw) what had gone on, highlighting as a reason that he didn’t want to ruin anybody’s weekend plans.

The coach’s actions and inactions, which are being documented in the on-going Sandusky sex scandal trial, highlight a disgusting aspect of thePaterno, one that has overshadowed his fabled football career.

Wednesday's memorial, for family and friends of the late Paterno is fully justifiable. By all means I am not lashing out at a dead man and his grieving family. 

But public memorials honoring Paterno as some sort of hero should very much be criticized. I do stick with my original premise: Paterno does not deserve this praise. 

Paterno was a great coach, sure. But he was an awful person for his involvement in the Sandusky sex scandal. In any eulogy for the former Penn State coach, this fact should trump all others.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to properly cite language that was originally used without attribution to Newsradio 1070 WKOK. We apologize to our readers for this violation of our basic editorial standards. Mic has put in place new mechanisms, including plagiarism detection software, to ensure that this does not happen in the future.