By Vanessa E. Curry
One of the most poignant headlines I read in the wake of the Penn State sex scandal appeared in large letters next to a photograph of workers removing Coach Joe Paterno’s likeness from outside Beaver Stadium. It read: STATUE OF LIMITATIONS.
There is so much meaning in those three words — a clever twist of the legal term statute of limitations.
Dedicated fans called him “JoePa,” a term of endearment for a man who dedicated his entire coaching career — 45 years as head coach for the Nittany Lions — to the sport and the players he loved.
His skill and dedication earned him numerous accolades including a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. Until recently his statue stood outside his home turf near a plaque extolling him as an “educator, coach, and humanitarian.”
The plaque also recorded his own words; “They asked me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I’ve made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
Paterno is gone. He died in January of lung cancer.
But his hopes and dreams of how he would be remembered were dashed by his own actions, and/or inaction as it appears to be.
An investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded Paterno and other former University officials shielded Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach now convicted of raping young boys.
Current Penn State officials are distancing themselves from Paterno despite his legacy as a winning coach. The decision to remove the statue and plaques from the stadium, as well as actions taken by others, sends a strong message that there are limitations to what society will overlook, even for the sake of a football “great.”
It is truly a sad state of affairs for Penn State, the Paterno family, and certainly for Sandusky’s victims.
The question of whether Paterno was a good coach is arguable. The question of whether he left Penn State a better place is not.
Maybe it is wise to remember Shakespeare’s words of the great Roman ruler Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
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