arteejee

A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

JoePa

I don’t follow football with any regularity, professional or otherwise, but any resident of Pennsylvania this week can’t escape the outpouring of emotions at the passing of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. The coach died with his family at his side and vast throngs of well-wishers from the college community gathered on the campus. It seemed to be a complete nearly happily-ever-after conclusion to a long, productive life, but everything isn’t always what it seems to be.

Paterno was the winningest college football coach in history with over 400 victories. He accomplished this in a career that lasted over 62 years! Many professional careers peak at 35 years max! Many people don’t live that long, yet he held onto to one job for over half a century! That is an accomplishment itself, when one considers the regularity with which companies toss workers aside in these economic times.

Had the last few months been different, the reverence for JoePa would be universal. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The sex scandal involving his long time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky broke in mid-season, and Paterno’s role was scrutinized and criticized. In the end, many people determined – without the convenience of a trial by jury — that he did not do enough to report the incidents to his superiors. The university found their scapegoat and fired Paterno, effectively ending the only life he ever knew.

In the days since his dismissal, Paterno suffered the accumulating affects of old age. At one point, he fell and injured his hip. A bronchial infection was found to be lung cancer. It was treatable, we were told at the time, which was fine with everyone. His fans could look forward to the day when he could recover from his illness and face down his accusers much like his players faced down their opponents on the gridiron for over sixty years.

Again, this was not to be.

Paterno did speak once about the scandal that abruptly ended his career. In a Washington Post article published last month, Paterno admitted that he could have done more, but overall the concept of a man sexually assaulting a boy was beyond his understanding. Actually, I believe this is a very plausible explanation coming from JoePa.

How could Paterno not know about such things as pedophilia? Simple; in his day, it was not discussed in public. You might overhear about such things as a whisper, but seldom was it heard out loud as a matter of discourse.

People from Paterno’s generation didn’t talk about such things as Uncle Jim’s alcoholism, Cousin Suzie’s heroin addiction, or brother Michael preferring to spend more time with other men than women. Venereal disease wasn’t considered worthy of discussion until the public schools launched a major education effort in the 1970s. Similarly, grandma didn’t die from cancer; she had a “problem”. I have problems to deal with every day of my life, yet my heart is still ticking!

So how did people deal with real big problems like, say World War II? My answer: hell if I know! The war was certainly unpleasant and therefore not worthy of discussion at the dinner table. It was in all of the newspapers; surprise, it made the history books! It affected millions of lives from the common folk who had to do without eating meat certain days of the week and were only able to purchase gasoline for their cars with the aid of stamps; many others went off to fight the war and never returned. Certainly it was a major disruption for many lives, yet somebody must have talked about it!

That was the world in which Joe Paterno grew up. So, in the end, he could be accused of being naïve and blinded to many of the “problems” mankind deals with in the modern world. In this respect, he was no better or worse than the other survivors of his generation.

Will his legacy suffer? Certainly there will be a little tarnish on it, but ultimately he will be remembered for his victories on and off the field. Legacies can be fluid; they reach new heights or lows like the tides on a beach as additional information about the person is found year after year.

Consider Ben Franklin for a moment. In his lifetime, he was widely recognized for his scientific and diplomatic achievements. Since his death, historians have pondered — or salivated — over the many stories of Franklin’s romantic liaisons. Okay, so he took the role of Founding Father a little too seriously, yet his legacy endures. The same will undoubtedly be true for Joe Paterno.

This week, many will mourn his passing, while many others will mourn the fact that he escaped justice. We’ll forever be left to speculate what would have happened if he had lived, or if indeed his life was shortened when society took the ball out of his hands and told him, “Go home! You can’t play here anymore.” So much for outliving the naïve world he grew up in and cherished. Actually, the whole episode has been a rude awakening for everyone concerned.

Rest in Peace, JoePa.

(Thank you for reading.)

1 Comments:

Anonymous Janey said...

RTG,

Of the many, many news columns and sportswriters' analyses I've read on this issue, yours was the clearest, fairest, most thought-provoking, and most reasonable explanation of both JoePa's actions and his legacy. Thank you.

January 24, 2012 at 8:29 PM  

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