I started writing this blog post the best part of 36 hours ago. I was found naked in my study by my girlfriend with tears having more than moistened my cheeks staring at the screen suffering from Writers Block. A couple of hours earlier I had rolled over in bed to check my twitter feed and saw reports that Joe Paterno was in a serious condition and that his wife had called the family in from all over the country as his time was short.
I got up and came to the computer to read all the stories and reports of his death. They were premature but he wouldn’t live to see the next day out. He passed at 9:25AM on Sunday morning. I was brought into this world no doubt kicking and screaming at 9:25AM on a Sunday morning. Joe Pa left quietly in his sleep ready to give the big guy hell if he so exists.
Looking back I can count the amount of times I have cried in the past five years on two fingers. Both of those occasions were due to Paterno. One his passing and the second the way he was treated and vilified by the media following allegations of child sexual assault against a former assistant of his. Yes a former assistant. Not a current assistant. Not him. But by someone else. The police acknowledged that Paterno did nothing wrong but the media had a bone and they weren’t letting it go until they destroyed him. This isn’t the time or place to debate whether the actions of the media hastened his departure from this world but when Coach K – aka Mike Krzyzewski – goes on ESPN and basically tells them they did just that it says a lot.
The following is a comment by poster OptaShields over at BlackShoeDiaries which I think sums up a lot of my feelings today:
I’ve heard a lot of people asking “What will be the lasting legacy of Joe Paterno?”
As if that’s a question that anyone could answer. A legacy isn’t something that you discuss. There can be no official determination. The only people who can possibly care about this discussion are the people who have never had their lives influenced by the man. The discussion is abstract and academic, and almost wholly worthless.
His real legacy won’t be determined by words, spoken or written.
It is when I work a little harder on the details to make the brief I’m writing not just good enough, but perfect.
It’s when I meet someone new, look them in the eye while I’m shaking their hand and commit myself to actually listening and being interested in them, because that’s how one shows respect.
It’s when I walk a little further to the sidewalk to avoid cutting through someone’s yard, because you don’t cut figurative or literal corners.
It’s understanding that you can live up to some ideal and be driven by more than just personal self-interest, and then striving to live in such a way and help others in their quests as well.
It’s Adam Taliaferro going from being paralyzed to becoming an elected government official and (hopefully) Trustee within the span of 12 years.
It’s Paul Jones, who committed to Penn State as a 4-star recruit, and has nothing but respect and admiration for his former coach, even after being prevented from playing for his first two years.
It’s the hundreds of former players who credit their old coach for making them into the men they are today.
It’s listening to Urban Meyer and Mike Ditka and Coach K talk about what he’s meant to them, and hearing something much deeper, realer and more genuine than you usually hear when people give respects to an icon.
It’s every current and former player understanding that a scholarship has more to do with class and grades than football, that you run to the whistle (in both football and life) and internalizing the maxim “if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
The idea that a legacy is an encapsulation or a summary is silly. A legacy is influence, and exists at a subconscious, ineffable level as much as it does as an actual idea. I am a better person because Joe Paterno was my role model. My life was enriched by the places and people that he influenced and improved during his life. And there are hundreds of thousands like me. That is his legacy.
Legacy is a strange thing. How will Bill Clinton be remembered in 100 years time? Will it be as an adulterer who put his wife through such an ordeal or will it be as the person who oversaw a large economic boom, helped peace processes around the Globe and was a very popular president? It will be the latter. Is Woody Hayes remembered as a great football coach or as the man who punched one of his students? It is the former.
Paterno has a black mark against his name but it is only a chapter of the book. The book has many chapters and the vast majority are positive. Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone knows exactly what they would have done in his position. Everyone is perfect. Everyone would have gone up to Jerry Sandusky and punched his lights out and then dragged him to the police station. It is what everyone would have done. Well everyone in hindsight and everyone who doesn’t believe in innocent until proven guilty in a Court of Law that is. Heck a Court of Law, the Court of Public Opinion, what is the difference?
If you had been told by your superiors that they had done a full investigation on an issue and had acted appropriately then what do you do? Do you say that they haven’t done enough even though they know (or at least portrayed to know) far more than you and then take it on yourself or do you trust them – as it is their job to oversee such matters and get on with things? You do the latter. If you say the former then you are deluding yourself. Some people didn’t do their job in 2002 and Joseph Vincent Paterno was not one of them. Yes he could have done more but when the people in charge tell you they have investigated and done appropriate action then what are you meant to do? I mean really?
The trial of Jerry Sandusky will happen later this year. As will the trials of Tim Curley and Gary Schultz who according to the DA didn’t fulfill their legal obligations in 2002 on one of the incidents that Sandusky is charged with. When this happens it will be interesting to see how Paterno’s name is dragged through the media once more.
The media over the past 24 hours have seen Paterno in a different light. Although certain writers and broadcasters cannot go a sentence without mentioning the charges against people not named Joseph Vincent Paterno. As I wrote before this chapter is yet to be fully written and when it does it will still only be a chapter of a book. His legacy will continue in the people he influenced and moulded to become the people they are today. The motto of ‘success with honour’ is something that I do believe any one of us could live by. There is never any success if you get it without honour.
Paterno influenced many far and wide. The people who met him and even those that did not were helped on their way in life by the way he lived his. He said ‘take care of the small things in life and the big things will fall into place’ which is a great way to be. On the statue outside of Beaver Stadium of Paterno the following quote is etched into the base, “They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
Well coach that you did. You didn’t just make Penn State a better place you made the world a better place. You made people better people. You may not have been perfect but who of us can say that they are? You lived your life as to benefit others and teach people about how to live their lives in a better and more meaningful way. If that isn’t the best legacy that you can have then I don’t know what is.
Rest in Peace Joe Pa and trust me when that you will live on in the spirit of the many people you influenced across the Globe and know this – those people will instill your ways into their offspring so that your legacy will go on for many generations to come.
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