Joe Paterno — Trapped By Legacy

Legacy and reputation.

So much stock is put into how a public figure will be remembered after he has retired. Because of this reality, most individuals will do as much as they can to ensure they are seen in a good light when all has been said and done.

Joe Paterno was duped by this reality.

Damning evidence from the Freeh Report came out today concluding that JoePa and other Penn State officials decided to conceal the child sex abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky. The Freeh Report leaves virtually no doubt to Joe Paterno’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the whole Sandusky fiasco.

Reputation destroyed. Legacy destroyed.

Joe Paterno was beloved not only in the state of Pennsylvania but around the United States by the time 1998 rolled around. He was beloved for the football program he ran. He was beloved for the way he molded teenagers into men. He was beloved for creating an environment that any parent would be happy to send their child to.

This was the Penn State way.

Then, the allegations surfaced. The Freeh Report states that Joe Paterno and Penn State officials knew about Sandusky’s crimes in 1998 and 2001 but they didn’t do a damn thing about it.

Joe Paterno was selfishly thinking of his reputation, his legacy.

Joe Paterno didn’t do the right thing in 1998 because Jerry Sandusky’s shortcomings had the potential to burst the bubble of Penn State’s pristine reputation. Jerry Sandusky rose through the ranks from the very beginning of Joe Paterno’s reign as head coach in 1966. By 1998, Sandusky had been part of Paterno’s program for over 30 years. To nail Sandusky in 1998 would have possibly meant a black mark on Joe Paterno’s aura of greatness. At least, that’s the way Paterno must have seen it.

He had worked for over 30 years to create one of the most storied programs in all of College Football. JoePa wasn’t going to let his disturbed, long-time assistant coach get in the way of that so he let him off the hook. Not coincidentally, Sandusky was no longer coaching at Penn State after the 1999 season. Amazingly, it wasn’t until the 2001 allegations that Penn State officials banned Sandusky from bringing children to campus. They still didn’t report him to the child welfare authorities though.

It’s hard to imagine any person with a soul enabling Sanduksy to do the horrible things that he did. However, when reputation and legacy are on the line for a public figure as adored as Joe Paterno, it is a little easier to imagine. Just a little…

Sports icons are such an important part of society but too much significance is placed on their legacy and reputation. These icons and heroes want to be thought of and remembered as people who made a positive difference in both the sports and real world. Few had made as big a difference as Paterno had in his years in charge of the Nittany Lions football program.

In large part due to the media and fans obsession with lifetime status, too much emphasis is put on the legacy and reputation of our sports figures.

It takes away their focus from the now. It can cloud their judgement. Clearly it did for JoePa.

Related: What Else Should We Expect?

By no means is that a valid excuse for Joe Paterno. As a human being living on earth, it was his duty to report Jerry Sandusky to the proper authorities. But he didn’t do what he should have at the time because he was worried about how he would be perceived in the future.

In 2001, when graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky in a campus shower with a boy, it was too late. Joe Paterno and Penn State were in too deep. After covering up the Sandusky accusations in 1998, to do anything at that point would have ruined them faster than Bernie Madoff.

To report Sandusky would have obviously been the right choice but Joe Paterno was only thinking of himself. He was thinking about how this scandal would reflect on him. Burying the problem and hoping it would go away was the answer if he wanted to maintain his good standing with the public.

There may not have been evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to send Roger Clemens to jail. Nevertheless, it appears as though he was willing to lie to congress in order to keep his good reputation. He likely committed a felony simply to uphold his legacy. Roger Clemens couldn’t bear the thought of the public viewing him differently.

Brett Favre is often criticized for the way he handled his retirement. In the eyes of many, his legacy is tarnished. But Favre didn’t care about that when he was playing/retiring. He didn’t care and it allowed him to have one of the greatest seasons a quarterback could ever dream of at the tender age of 40.

Comparing Favre’s situation to Paterno’s may seem kind of ridiculous. Yes, the magnitude of their circumstances aren’t even on the same scale but there are similar principles. As indecisive as he was, Brett Favre did what he felt was right at the risk of his legacy and was rewarded for it.

Joe Paterno swept aside what was right in favour of his legacy.

Everyone had Joe Paterno up on a pedestal, including himself. Apparently, the possibility of tainting that image even slightly was enough reason to cover up a child sex abuse scandal.

There are still some diehard Penn State fans who are struggling with the undeniable evidence against Joe Paterno. It’s difficult for them. They don’t want their beloved hero to be remembered like this. They don’t want to remember Joe Paterno like this.

It’s the sad truth about the sports world. The importance of legacy and reputation can trump all.

No matter the cost.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also e-mail me at or reply in the comments section below.

About Chris Ross
Questions, comments, suggestions? Send yours to Follow me on twitter @paintstheblack

30 Responses to Joe Paterno — Trapped By Legacy

  1. Michael B. Calyn says:

    Reblogged this on Ye Olde Soapbox.

    • dadles says:

      “The NCAA didn’t just settle for allowing Joe to have a stain on his legacy but instead destroyed it” Read the full article at

  2. Ironically, I think that had JoePa reported Sandusky’s crimes, his reputation would’ve been better off. Legendary coach, role model, and pedophile stopper.

  3. mrsportsblog says:

    Nice strong take, Chris … obviously you already know what I wrote on my Website — … will spend some time checking out your site on Friday.

  4. NASCARKrissy says:

    Nah, can’t really compare Paterno to Farve here. Big difference! Farve just wasn’t ready to give up. Paterno was just scared to ruin a reputation and a name he worked so hard to make for himself. A role model to many, Paterno could have stopped this monster but instead he let it continue to go on. I just hope the Paterno family has a good lawyer because I see the victims heading for the Paterno estate next.

  5. Chris

    Joe Paterno’s actions and that of school are very much in the same vein as the indifference shown by the Catholic church and the sexual abuse scandal that embroiled dioceses across the US . The coverup there also went all the way to the very top and the hierarchy in Rome were also apathetic to the plight of the victims .

    Joe Paterno showed chose loyalty and friendship to a piece of fecal matter in Jerry Sandusky rather than doing what was morally and ethically right .

    N ow you have Paterno’s son , Jay Paterno is trying to espouse his father’s good deeds without acknowledging that he repeatedly made egregious self aware decisions that he knew were wrong . This whole situation is beyond remorseful , it has been cold and calculated by PSU and their own campus police .

    Former FBI Director Lou Freeh’s investigation may not have had subpoena powers but it was in-depth enough and succinct enough to show in great detail the lack of oversight and the length to which this cover-up went .

    • Mike says:

      This is a comparison that I reject. The Catholic Church scandal is an international scandal involving hundreds of complicit enablers. The Church leaders were actually moving these guys around to get the heat off. There are very minor similarities but it really is not in the same league.

      I am not stupid enough to think Paterno did not have a hand in this but nowhere is there a smoking gun that proves he was the architect of the coverup. Any good jurist would conclude an e mail saying “after a conversation with someone they decided to go a different route” might infer but certainly would not prove Paterno told him a course of action.

      I mean in a deliberation room Henry Fonda would have a field day with any of the other 11 angry men if they tried to argue this E mail as proof. Look Joe screwed up but unless he was the orchestrator of the coverup he falls behind Sandusky and the administrators in who was most at fault.

      • The similarities can’t end there because the church simply enabled that egregious malfeasance to continue as did PSU with their lack of action .

        Paterno placed his misguided loyalty to a heinous piece of fecal matter like Jerry Sandusky over that of the victims . Now you have Jay Paterno trying to sell the public on the good deeds of his father . How crass , classless and asinine ! What about the pain and suffering of the victims ? Unfortunately Joe’s son doesn’t seem all that concerned .

        Well if you’re going to look at the administrators then also look at the bonehead governor Tom Corbett who also sits on the board of trustees of PSU . As the state’s AG , consider how he handled the Hershey School sexual abuse scandal . Just as inept as the idiocy we have seen here . Not only that but then you had an a#s wipe Matt Millen who happened to sit on the board of the charity that Sandusky founded (Second Mile Organization) carrying on as if there was nothing awry even light of the original suspicions coming to the fore .

      • By the way …….. an enabler is an enabler no matter what the instance . You can’t delineate and then suggest both of these incidents are not as heinous as the other. The victims here were young innocent kids or are you forgetting that fact ?

  6. thabutcha says:

    Very well-written. I think there was a good deal of legacy protecting that factored in. Tell ya what, they could have recovered that legacy had they acted swiftly and decisively. In 1998. Even in 2001. In fact, Paterno and the university could have come out looking so much better had they dispatched of Sandusky AND followed through on his prosecution.

  7. J. Lowe says:

    The big picture to take away from this is not just Paterno or Penn State, but sports itself. I just don’t understand the adulation heaped on sports figures, many of whom later appear in police mug shots or criminal lineups. Hey, why don’t we try respecting scientists and engineers for a change? Kids should try to be like THEM instead of placing their hopes on becoming a sports god, pop icon, singer or dancer. If an alien intelligence landed right now, said alien would take one look around and ask, “Why are you people so obsessed with bouncing, kicking, throwing, and dribbling rubber bladders around while your planet is circling the drain?”

    • Chris Ross says:

      I don’t think that’s something that is ever going to change. Why athletes and not the intellectuals in society goes all the way back to the ancient Greek days. I think this is a matter that is engrained in our society for so long and it`s something in human nature that reveres physically superior specimens. That`s not going to change but if it does it won’t be for a long , long time.

  8. ajmbroadcasteducator says:

    Reblogged this on AJMBroadcastEducator and commented:
    An assessment of Joe Paterno that (thankfully) avoids emotional rhetoric and thus gives us something to think about.

  9. ajmbroadcasteducator says:

    I re-blogged (and what a horrible word that is!!) your post…good job avoiding the rhetoric and focusing on something to think about.

  10. Charles says:

    I think we’re all forgetting the part that Joe Paterno has supposedly reported this to University officials, and they did nothing. If this was taken care of when it happened the first time then we’d have no issue accepting Joe as a stand up individual who has reported these things.

    There’s no excuse for the University to hide this. Which is why I don’t believe they should get to play football this year. There are my thoughts on the situation.

    I agree some people tried to keep a legacy, however comparing this to people who didn’t commit crimes, or help people commit crimes is a little off base for me.

  11. Paterno’s legacy ? What about the irreparable harm and damage done to Sandusky’s victims ? Everyone’s concerned with a dead octogenarian who was ethically and morally challenged . WTF !

  12. Poor ol’ Joe walked away with close to $15 million in benefits that came courtesy of PSU . Hopefully the victims’ family can go after that as well as PSU in a civil suit .

  13. hornm16 says:

    Good blog… though it is a blog I wish no one would have to post about.

    People of integrity are defined by how they deal with adversity and Paterno will forever be a coward and a fraud in my eyes. Paterno didn’t even have the courage to deal with the problem he just he ran away. Which is probably why he was able to run out of the tunnel every Saturday, running came natural to him.

  14. Lada95 says:

    I’m a Penn Stater and grew up in a PSU Football family. Sadly, Joe was not who we thought he was. It’s hard to put into words because I can’t understand how any human being covers this up. There is absolutely no excuse. I apologize to the victims. I wish I could have done something. I am so sorry.

  15. kujhawk says:

    Very nice story Chris. It will be interesting to see what state Penn State athletics is in in 5 years in the aftermath of all this terrible tragedy. Also, thanks again for reading my blog! I look forward to reading more posts of yours.

  16. If I were to miraculously zap Paterno back to life to strap him to a lie detector and ask him only one question, it’d have to be, if he had to do it all over again, would he have acted differently in how he handled Sandusky.

  17. billycstephens says:

    Chris, nice post. I think you are right on the mark.

  18. balladeer says:

    Nice post! Paterno was a coward and a liar and a child rape enabler. I used to live back there and that monumental hypocrite was on tv every election year with his “family values” platitudes for whatever Republican candidate he was backing.

    What did he think when he would see Sandusky with little kids on the sidelines at games WHICH HE WAS DOING THROUGH THE 2011 SEASON. Did Paterno think “Boy, I’d hate to be that little boy getting raped later tonight. Good thing I’m a pillar of the community and can just pretend all this hasn’t been happening for 14 years.

  19. Mike Kueber says:

    Chris et al., get your facts straight. The 1998 hugging incident was reported to and investigated by the police, after which the local prosecutor concluded that the evidence did not warrant prosecution. So don’t acuse the four Penn State men of covering-up the incident. Next thing the mouth breathers of this country will be blaming Paterno and the Three Amigos (Schultz, Curley, and Spanier) for global warming.

  20. Brian Spaen says:

    Since Joe Paterno wanted to retain the legacy of Penn State, there is no other way to give discipline than to restart the entire program. That includes shutting it down and completely re-hauling the image. It may not be fair to the players or fans, but I believe we have all been punished in the past by other people’s actions. This is no different. The crimes that these administrators have done warrant a new program.

  21. niecey456 says:

    Excellent Post Chris! I think this whole thing boils down to them being self-entitled. We often think of that as just being people that are being supported by the taxpayers, but it really isn’t. Its bigger than that. Its all around us everyday. People worry more about themselves than others. While there are still a lot of good people in this world, so many times most have gotten so wrapped up in their own little worlds that they cannot get past themselves. I think that is exactly the reason for this cover up. The sad truth is that their reputations/images would have been far better served had they just done the right thing and it would have been less complicated than to cover it up. Not to mention they would have been better human beings for doing what was right. Sadly they enabled, facilitated and condoned Sandusky’s actions and they were more concerned about him and themselves than innocent children. What a sad statement. I continue to pray for the victims.

  22. Well done. Paterno’s continued deification from Penn State faithful (such as his son, Jay Paterno and current ESPN analyst Matt Millen) seems to confirm that it’s easier to deny allegations and tarnished legacies than to admit a problem. But isn’t that what caused all of this in the first place?

    My next question is, what happens now? While I believe the NCAA “Death Penalty” would be unfair to current players, the covering of child molestation is a far worse offense than players receiving free tattoos (for which Ohio State received a postseason ban). Something must be done, but I’m not certain what.

  23. Mary says:

    Reblogged this on ConnectingthaDots and commented:
    I read this to find what a sportsman’s view would be about JoPa’s Legacy. It’s very insightful and worth your time.

  24. dadles says:

    “The NCAA didn’t just settle for allowing Joe to have a stain on his legacy but instead destroyed it” Read the Full Article on

Leave a Reply to Michael B. Calyn Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: