The Lesson of Joe Paterno

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1)

Few things in life are more important than being a person of integrity. It can take years to build a good name, but only a moment for it to be ruined. This is the harsh reality of Coach Joe Paterno and the scandal at Penn State University.

JoePa coached the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years (1966-2011). Before taking over as head coach, he served as an assistant coach from 1950 until 1966. All told, Paterno coached at Penn State for 61 years. Not once during his entire tenure as head coach, was his program cited for any NCAA violation. For 6 decades JoePa built a good name for himself, his staff, and his university. He was known as a class act, a disciplinarian, and a generous person. He and his wife donated millions of dollars back to the school Penn State be used in non-athletic endeavors. JoePa coached 5 undefeated teams, won 2 national championships (1982 & 1986), and 24 bowl games. At the end of his career he was the winningest division 1 football coach in history with a total of 409 victories. JoePa represented class, and integrity. He had a good name.

What took 40 plus years to build has been completely destroyed in less than 1 year.

In November of 2011 the impossible happened – Penn State fired JoePa! No on ever thought that would happen, but the university was embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal involving longtime friend and assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been found guilty on 45 counts of child molestation and is in prison awaiting sentencing. More than likely he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Sandusky coached along side JoePa for 30 years. In 1977 Sandusky started a non-profit to work with disadvantaged and at-risk youths. It was during his non-profit work that Sandusky began molesting boys. Many of Sandusky’s abuse happened while at Penn State, in the football showers. A recent university internal investigation showed the JoePa tried to cover up the molestations. In other words, there was proof he knew what was going on, but tried to hide it for fear of what it would do to the football program.

Joe Paterno was fired in November of 2011. He died from complication associated with lung cancer two months later on January 22, 2012.

Since his death, the conclusion of the investigation into the scandal, and his attempt to cover everything up, JoePa’s name has gone from one of high esteem to the lowest of low. His statue was taken down from outside the football stadium. The football program as received unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA and Big Ten Conference, and JoePa has been stripped of 111 victories. He is no longer the winningest coach in division 1 football. Instead of receiving the “death penalty,” the athletic program at Penn State has received the “slow death penalty.” It will take years to recover, if they ever do recover.

And all of this happened under the watch of a person who had a good name…and now it is gone…and rightly so. Words cannot describe the atrocities that took place at Happy Valley and the evil that tried to cover it all up. The lives that have been ruined by Sandusky and the cover-up by the school and JoePa are numerous. No penalty will give the abused boys their innocence back.

The take away for me from all this is the importance of living a life of integrity and standing up for those in my community who are vulnerable and unable to stand up for themselves. We can no longer afford to close our eyes to the wrongs that go on all around us. We all need to stand up for justice and speak out against injustice even if it costs us our jobs, our careers, and a couple of football games.

Few things in life are more important than a good name.

What are the lessons you have learned from the Penn State scandal?

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