Joe Paterno should be remembered as a football coach, not saint or satan

Death and love can often have very similar effects on the human brain. The emotion involved in coming to grips with someone’s death or fully committing to another person can cloud our memory. We tend to remember the good and forget the bad in order to reshape our perception and create a mental image of a person that’s infinitely better than the reality.

Mix them together and you have what happened when news broke about the real death of Joe Paterno. Thanks, CBS.

Pictures, collages and statuses drowned my Facebook news feed like 488 friends lost someone they were intimate with.

In other words, people lost their marbles. In a matter of hours Paterno, who was found guilty in the court of public opinion for not living up to moral obligations in the Jerry Sandusky case, transformed into Paterno, the teacher, coach and molder of young men. Did I miss something?

The vehement defense of this man is astounding and Branch Davidian-esque. The mind-boggling range of reactions run the gamut, from alumni refusing to donate to the school because of a football coach’s firing to others contending that the Sandusky scandal led to his unfair treatment.

Supporters say that it was the first 61 years coaching the Nittany Lions, not the last 12 weeks, which defines Paterno and his legacy. I agree.

Along with his 409 wins, five undefeated seasons and two national championships, his time should also be remembered for the 46 players charged with 163 separate counts between 2002 and 2008 according to an ESPN report. Despite serious allegations, players were allowed to continue practicing with the team.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that, when off-field issues began piling up in the last years of his tenure, Paterno accused journalists who tried climbing the wall of his touted, squeaky-clean program of being on a “witch hunt” and doing an “awful lot of probing.”

Arrests, charges and convictions happened at other schools, but supposedly not at Penn State. Not while Paterno was there.

Paterno placed a high value on loyalty. A loyalty to Penn State, his players and his coaches. A loyalty that eventually led him to choose instution over individual in the Sandusky scandal.

His role, or lack thereof, in the scandal was by far Paterno’s most egregious error.

After Sandusky was originally investigated for child abuse in 1998, Paterno allowed his then-defensive coordinator to retain an office and access to buildings until 2002. Even after Mike McQueary reported what he saw, it was former Athletic Director Tim Curley, not Paterno, who barred Sandusky from bringing children onto campus.

Paterno said, looking back, he wish he did more. To me, however, that’s a situation that never needed hindsight.

This column is not meant to trash Paterno so soon after his death. It’s to bring some perspective on a man who has turned into a black and white issue and a legend that, in some respect, has been overblown.

Death is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t change the opinion we had while he was alive. And as I never met Paterno personally, like many of you, I’ll judge him from the evidence I’m privy to.

I’ll remember Paterno as a flawed man who coached a good game, talked a great one and put his players before everything else.

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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