Legacy is a Funny Word

Yesterday Joe Paterno died. When someone dies we almost always look for the the good they leave behind. It’s our nature. However, yesterday as I watched the news break on Twitter and Facebook, I noticed that reaction to his death was one of the most polarizing events I’ve ever witnessed. People wanted to talk about his “legacy” and many of those who scorned him just a few months ago were now remembering Coach Paterno for all the good he’s done over the years.

This article, “Joe Patern’s Legacy Outweighs Scandal” has well over 3,000 comments as I write this. Each comment the polar opposite of the one before it. One reader responded with the following:

“Great read… it’s refreshing and inspiring to read someone who understands that while he admits he made a mistake, one mistake shouldn’t forego his 61+ years of dedication, and the tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lives he touched and helped improve.”

Another weighs in with this:

“No. Scandal outweighs legacy you idiot. People are more important than football.”

People keep arguing about whether or not his failure to expose the rape of innocent children can be somehow offset by his 61 years of being a great coach and mentor. Personally it’s not even a question worth debating but it’s not my opinion that matters.

Ask the parents of the victims whether they’ll remember the generous donations Paterno made to Penn State or the sleepless nights their children spent blaming themselves for what went wrong.

Ask the victims whether they’ll remember 409 career wins or the shame stemming from those unspeakable events in a State College locker room.

In a Washinton Post interview that took place just over a week ago, Joe Paterno said of the abuse, “In hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

So do we, Joe Paterno. That could have been your legacy.


  1. says

    Well stated Ryan. I like to believe that if I were in that position I would have done more. I do believe I would have.

    I’ve always said that it if you f#@ck a kid or beat a dog, you will enjoy a special kind of hell. This story has opened my eyes to those who know and do nothing. Football is only a game. Rape is a sin and a crime.

    • ryan says

      I totally agree with the special hell for messing with kids. Like you, there’s no way of knowing for sure that I would have done the right thing, but I can’t help but think that calling the cops would have been my FIRST move. Not the move I never made.

  2. says

    It makes my blood boil that this man could retain any ounce of respect from anyone. I wonder if they’d still think the same of honoring is “legacy” if it was their kid in that basement or shower, or where else these terrible acts occur. I’m just thankful there is a God and that He is a God of justice.

  3. justin says

    I just hope they find a way to have him buried facing the other way. Just as he did in life. No matter his “great” coaching or the legacy he wanted to leave. He should be judged for what he didn’t do.
    Rot in Hell Joe,

    • Jeff says

      I spent far too much tome yesterday arguing with those who sought to defend this “man” and his great legacy. He did fail at the one true test, not for greatness, but just to be a compassionate human being. He did the bare minimum required of him, nothing more. Football and his wins were more important. Here’s the final score, JoePa:Football: 409 Wins, 136 Losses, 3 Ties. Doing something that really matters in life like protecting innocent children: 0 Wins, 1 Loss. Rot in pieces.

  4. says

    I heard a joke yesterday (kind of inappropriate) and for me it captured the whole Joe Pa controversy.
    I agree entirely with you Ryan.
    Did he never once in all the ensuing years think to follow up on any sort of Sandusky charges?


    If I discovered Joe Pa dead Id wait a day, call my boss, and ask him what to do.

  5. says

    I absolutely agree he could have done more. What I do not agree with though is people bashing him now, at his time of death. He was a person…a father…grandfather, husband, son, etc. He was someone who no matter what he did (or this case did NOT) do, deserves some respect right now.
    His family is grieving, they don’t need to read all of these negative stories. :(

    (No offense against your post Ryan, I’m just saying overall. Yes, we all agree that what he did was wrong….but why is it wrong to show respect for the dead?)

    • ryan says

      I totally get what you’re saying Lisa and I don’t really have any statements to make about his death specifically. I’m sure his loss was tragic for everyone who was close to him. Cancer isn’t anything I’d wish upon my worst enemy (I’ve lost family to cancer and it isn’t pretty).

      This post is about his legacy and unfortunately because of his actions that’s been tarnished. I’ve had the thoughts of this post swirling around my head for months now and thought long and hard before I hit publish. I wanted to make sure that I had clarity before I said something regrettable. I guess it’s hard for me to respect a reverence period when I think of the possibility of my child being one of the victims. Respect is earned, even after death.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  6. says

    I have such a hard time reading any coverage of this scandal because I can’t stomach even the thought of child abuse. Especially where so many adults had to look the other way for it to have been so pervasive. The bystander effect is devastating. But it’s not a crime. I think we need to be careful to keep the focus on Sandusky.

      • Heather says

        You say that, yet Sandusky isn’t mentioned one single time in your post. And sadly, people read everything so quickly and only partially, and automatically assume that all the blame should fall directly on Paterno. It’s so disappointing that we’d rather focus on a man who accomplished more in his lifetime than many of us could even dream, than focus on the man who committed the crimes for decades, or the man who *witnessed* them (McQueary) and didn’t stop anything from happening, OR the men in a higher position (Spanier & Curly) who could’ve stopped it all, and they did nothing.

        I am a Penn Stater – admittedly biased, and overall heartbroken over the entire thing (Scandal, victims, death, aftermath, etc). I understand the outrage of it all, and can certainly reason that Paterno made a big mistake. But he’s so far from being the only one, and he gave so much of his life to so many people.

        • ryan says

          I don’t mention Sandusky in the piece because the piece isn’t about him. It’s about Joe Paterno. I don’t excuse Sandusky for a second. In fact, I could go on for a long time about the fate I’d like to see Sandusky meet. But this isn’t about that.

          This is about a man who had the chance to prevent years of irreparable torment and looked the other way. The reason the focus is being put on him right now is because of his passing. Sandusky and the others will have their time. I have no doubt.

          Trust me, the point of this was not at all to detract from other parties who are also responsible, it was about Joe and his legacy.

          • Heather says

            I understand that. But what I don’t understand is what good it does for us to focus so intently on the negative side of this – clearly nothing can be done about Paterno’s actions (or lackthereof) now, and the other parties responsible for all of the actions will have justice served to them in due time.

            What would be so bad about choosing, instead, to focus on the positive things he did? The list is long, and the people & the school that he dedicated himself to, inspired, influenced, coached and befriended are better because of that side of his legacy.

            Either way, thanks for the level-head, perspective and “friendly” dialogue.

          • ryan says

            Not sure why friendly was put in quotations but it’s all good. I don’t really see the situation the way you do but that’s ok too. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

            Thanks for sharing yours.

  7. says

    I’ve held back from weighing in publicly because it has been so polarizing. But if people want to know what I think, I’ll just send them to this post.


  8. says

    Well said, Ryan. I thought a lot about this as well and I think that true character shines through in the moments when people think no one else is watching, not when you’re in the spotlight. People talk about his legacy as if the media and those judging him are the ones tainting it. But he could’ve done more and he didn’t, and that was his choice. No one tainted his legacy except for him.

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