Turmoil. Sadness. Anger. Confusion. Many emotions and opinions permeated across the Penn State campus throughout the entire past weekend. Every media network nationwide covered the scandal. Hundreds of student supporters mobbed the lawn and street in front of Joe Paterno's house. University staff members were fired and former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of multiple young boys. All of which has led to one truly unfortunate event: the tarnishing of Joe Paterno's legacy.
Before last week, Joe Paterno was known as the legendary 84-year-old Penn State Head Football Coach who consistently led a contending football team that was produced by an honorable Penn State Football program. This program was known to annually graduate more players than any other public school, help young boys mature into grown men and preach fair play and sportsmanship. Paterno was known for his inspirational teachings and his famous father-son-like relationships with his players. He was known for contributing so much to the University outside of football and for dedicating his life to help benefit all of Penn State's students.
Even with this enormous scandal and horrific allegations, why should any of that change?
The impact Paterno had on the entire school and its students cannot be compared to that of any other college coach in any other sport. The man was simply a legend (and still is) and has defined the term "great coach" in every single aspect. Even though he failed to further pursue the child-molestation issue after informing his superior, the University's President, and probably should have alerted the authorities, Paterno isn't guilty of any federal crime. His actions were, yes, immoral. But illegal? Not even close.
"The sad thing is, Paterno didn't violate the law" -- by failing to notify to the authorities -- Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Phila) told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Paterno was immediately placed in a bad position by Sandusky and graduate-assistant-at-the-time, Mike McQueary. And don't even get me started on McQueary not being fired and being allowed to coach the team's game this past Saturday against Nebraska. If you were Paterno back in 2002, I'll bet every penny in my bank account that you would have done the same exact thing by just telling the president of the University.
The truth is that there is so much more to Joe Paterno's coaching career beyond this past week. Obviously the scandal is serious and punishments deserve to be distributed to all members who might even be guilty by association. But, we can't overlook the amazing contributions Paterno made to the University. Paterno helped raise $13 million for their new library ($4 million out of his own pocket) that will remain on Penn State's campus for many years and undoubtedly enhance each current and future Penn State student's education. Paterno also was a consistent mentor, big brother and father figure to all of his players.
When Adam Taliaferro, former Penn State cornerback, was paralyzed by a hit during a 2000 game, Paterno could have easily wished him and his family the best of luck with Taliaferro's recovery and returned immediately back to football operations. Instead, Paterno was seemingly glued to Taliaferro's hospital bedside and helped motivate and encourage his player to rehabilitate and work towards recovering from his almost life-threatening injury.
"When I was injured and in the hospital, every Thursday, Coach would fly down from State College to Philadelphia," Taliaferro said. "No one really knew he did it. We didn't really even talk about football. For him to do that during the season says a lot about him. That's when I really realized he was more than a coach."
Taliaferro is now walking and was recently elected to public office in Gloucester, NJ. Along with Taliaferro, Paterno helped guide literally hundreds of graduated players towards earning a steady salary and achieving their career aspirations after football.
Even after a weekend full of scorn and negativity, Paterno's legacy should be allowed to outshine the dark shadow this scandal has cast over his entire career. Joe Paterno deserves the chance for fans and people in general to understand that the positive contributions he made to Penn State University far outweigh this one infamous blemish on his otherwise immaculate resume. So, I'm urging you to forgive the living legend and understand the amazing impact he has had on the thousands of Penn State students that were on campus during his coaching tenure. If you choose to despise him and all that is Penn State Football, just know this: he will still always be known for winning two National Championships, still be the all-time FBS coaching leader in wins, and still hopefully have his statue grace the outside of Beaver Stadium. Joe Paterno is, and always will be, a revered legend. It's time for the whole world to re-acknowledge that.
Follow Jake Fischer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JakeLFischer