Guest column: Remembering Joe Paterno

Josh Testa

Paterno’s 46-year tenure at Penn State came to an end on the morning of Jan. 22 when he passed away after a battle with lung cancer. Word broke on the evening of Jan. 21 about his serious condition; family and friends were called into the hospital that evening for some last words.

Paterno, the iconic figure of Penn State, died amidst sexual assault allegations concerning former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky stemming back to 2002. While the doctors said Paterno had a curable form of lung cancer, many question how much fight he actually had left.

It’s inevitable that even in death critics continue to assess the normative aspects of anyone’s life and career – more significantly a man such as Paterno. Many argue that he didn’t do enough or simply didn’t care, in turn, letting the molestation of minors continue.

Of course, this has entailed a divide in the sports community as to the type of legacy that Paterno will leave. For these individuals, who don’t know of Paterno or the Penn State community as a whole – those who’ve simply watched the headlines the past three months – Paterno is a scoundrel and the Penn State community is asinine for supporting such a dishonest man.

You’ve seen the inability of a university to recognize the seriousness of child abuse, the confusion of university leaders to assess appropriate courses of action and a student body’s passion to be heard drowning out a more responsible approach showing displeasure.

You’ve seen leadership that was anything but an old man being barraged by reporters. Through it all, you’ve become familiar with a brief history of the university and the false labels they have seemingly accumulated and propose as their slogan, “Success with Honor.”

All of this takes place several feet from you, on your television, and you feel wronged – you want retribution. The downfall of the university, and more specifically Paterno, gives you a sense of gratification.

Others conceded to the ambiguous nature of the scandal. They recognized the sensationalized aspects of the media in creating a whirlwind of propaganda aimed at the only figurehead the populous can identify – Paterno. The man who built Penn State is a more attractive victim for scalping than a no-named Sandusky.

When the Board fired Paterno, via telephone after 46 years of faithful service, many armchair university presidents deemed the action a great call. Yet, even in the firing, the Penn State name still lingered with decency and hope as shown with the recent hiring of Bill O’Brien as the head football coach and new Board President Karen Peetz.

This disgusted those who wished to see the name dragged through mud. Shortly following his firing, Paterno was admitted to the hospital with lung cancer where he faced treatment with chemotherapy. While fighting cancer, critics continued to want more of the Paterno thrashing.

Columnists faithfully exerted full responsibility on Paterno, as if he was a detective in his own right; as if reporting the hearsay to the appropriate figures that pursue wrongdoers as their job wasn’t enough. It’s assumed that he became weak and passed away.

But, I’m sure the critics added to his declining health; as Paterno said earlier in his career, “Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”

Throughout the whole demoralizing process, Paterno remained loyal to those who mattered most to him; he donated $100,000 to Penn State a week after he was fired. Those who attacked his character are those who seemingly spite the man and Penn State for reasons they’re unable to justify.

The Greek tragedy that has come to be Paterno’s life may fulfill the critics appetite for sensational suffering but it doesn’t take away from those individuals who see Paterno’s success, on and off the field, as a level of ascertainment that only a great person could achieve.

Contact Josh Testa at

[email protected].