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Legendary Status Doesn’t Warrant a Pass for JoePa

“Memento mori.”

Supposedly, that is what slaves in ancient Rome were ordered to whisper in the ear of generals as they were paraded through the streets after victories on the battlefield. My journalism professor told me it means “remember thou art mortal,” or something like that. It served as a humbling reminder that all of the spoils of triumph would one day vanish.

We were discussing Joe Paterno.

It always seemed like the famed coach’s retirement was far away. Year after year he came back to a football program he helped build. A program with tremendous pride that he loved greatly. Unfortunately, in the wake of a pedophilic sex scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, Paterno announced his retirement after the season yesterday. Later in the day, he was fired.

The hurricane of media coverage has made everything worse. They have managed to rip and tear this story into so many pieces that people are forgetting the bare essentials: children allegedly were abused in a sexual manner. That’s the real issue, but it escalated into a blame game. It became about officials not taking the proper actions. It focused on students who were ashamed of their Alma Mater.

Then it was about JoePa.

I love and respect the man just like everyone else because I was raised on Penn State football. The legend of Joe Paterno is sacred to all Penn Staters, but it’s also clouding their judgments. We don’t know all the facts yet. We may never know all the facts. As of right now, JoePa fulfilled the lowest level of his legal obligations. Morally, it sounds like he could have done more. In a statement he issued yesterday he said, “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

“I wish I had done more.”

Those words will echo in the minds of many PSU fans for years to come.

There’s a fine line between Penn State pride and Penn State hubris, and I believe that line was crossed last night with the senseless riot that occurred downtown and outside Old Main. Students rallied behind their beloved figurehead like he was the victim. They forgot that legacy is something that can be scarred figuratively. Metaphorically. On paper. A child can be scarred emotionally. Physically. In real life.

He’s done a tremendous amount of good throughout his career, but his fatal error was one that brought his moral fiber into question. He wished he had done more. I only wish someone had been there to whisper “remember thou art mortal” to JoePa after all his victories and achievements. Perhaps he actually would’ve done more if he had known he too could be subjected to a fall from grace.

Then again, why should I get a wish at all? A selfish desire shouldn’t make me realize that one man’s dismissal is trivial when compared to the suffering of children.

Even if that man happens to be Joe Paterno.

About the Author

Shawn Christ

I am a junior majoring in print journalism. I am American. I am a Lion.


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