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An Open Letter In Defense of John Amaechi

We all love Joe Paterno. We love his contributions to the school and the community, along with what he did for the football team.

Above all, we love the Grand Experiment. We love that, while other schools were committing NCAA violations and letting athletes get by in the classroom, Joe Paterno held them to a higher standard. We love that Joe Paterno was a champion for equal rights among black athletes, believing that they were equal to white students in a time when such a thought wasn’t widely held.

This is Joe Paterno’s legacy. His wins on the football field, his contributions to the community, all those things are nice. However, the big thing is that in Joe Paterno’s eyes, football and academics were equal, as were white athletes and black athletes.

So for people to sit behind their keyboards, people who call themselves “defenders of Joe Paterno,” and say that Homecoming Grand Marshal John Amaechi is anything other than the perfect person to represent Joe Paterno’s vision of what a Penn Stater should be is one of the most hypocritical things I have ever heard.

I know what you’re going to say: “He went onto ESPN after the scandal and went after Joe Paterno, slandering his name in a time when Penn Staters need to rally together.” You’re also probably going to mention that, now that Joe Paterno has passed away, someone needs to defend him, which is where you come in. You, the students and alumni of Penn State, need to let John Amaechi know that what he said about Joe Paterno was unacceptable.

I’m here to tell you this: what you’re doing right now is far more unacceptable than what Amaechi did on November 16, 2011 when he appeared on ESPN.

Look at those first few paragraphs again. Look at what Joe Paterno stood for, what he represented, what he accomplished. In time, those will be the things that he will be remembered for, not for what he did or did not do in 1998, 2002, whatever. Do you know what won’t be remembered? This. And I’m willing to wager that, if information comes out that completely exonerates Joe Paterno, Amaechi will be one of the first people to admit that they were wrong and apologize.

Just look at what Amaechi has done in his life: he came to Penn State and excelled on and off the basketball court. He was a two-time First Team Academic All-American and led the Nittany Lions to the 1995 NIT semifinals.

Upon graduating, Amaechi began his pro basketball career. He was never an All-Star, but for eight years, he played in the NBA and other leagues around the world. He once turned down a $17 million contract offer from the Los Angeles Lakers, electing to play for $600,000 a year in Orlando, because he thought staying with the NBA team that gave him a chance to play in the best basketball league in the world was the right thing to do.

When he retired, Amaechi became an organizational psychologist, a public speaker, and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. When he came out of the closet in 2007, becoming the first professional basketball player to come out, he became a champion for gay rights, and has since become an ambassador for Amnesty International.

When you ask Amaechi about his accomplishments, about his success on and off the basketball court, the first thing he does is credit Penn State. He is someone that epitomizes what it means to be a Nittany Lion, the exact kind of person that Joe Paterno would have wanted to think of when they hear the phrase “Penn Stater.”

So to those people who call him a horrible representative of the university, those who inadvertently compare him to the Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church when they say that Penn Staters should turn their backs to him when he appears at the Homecoming parade later today: understand that the man you defend with so much intensity would be ashamed that someone who represents Penn State as well as Amaechi is receiving such horrific treatment.

If you want to do that, fine. Just realize how hypocritical it is for you people to say that someone deserves to be punished for something they did in their past, despite all the good that the person has done in their life and their love of Penn State. I mean, isn’t that the entire point of defending Joe Paterno?

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