Removing Paterno’s Wins Is Right Decision
By Michael Austin, Editor-In-Chief
Slightly lost in this morning’s NCAA announcement of sanctions against Penn State is the vacation of football wins by the school since 1998, which has dropped Joe Paterno from first to 12th on the all-time victories list. Consider this another small—yet symbolically powerful—step in the right direction.
Much like the tearing down of the Paterno statue is the start of wiping his tarnished “legacy” clean by removing the idols used to showcase the former coach as a hero, which he clearly was not, the erasing of wins acts in the same way. Paterno once sat atop the college football-coaching world with his 409 victories. Now, he’s merely a footnote with 298 wins.
By abusing the power of the football program to endanger the lives of children, Paterno does not deserve to be the all-time leader in college football victories. No, his heinous actions did not involve paying a player, providing improper benefits or any other type of illegal recruiting, but this still is a “football” problem at its core. If not for the power and corruption in the corporation of big-time football at Penn State, then those children may not have been abused. At the very least, Jerry Sandusky would not have been provided a safe haven to commit his deplorable acts while his supervisors knowingly ignored the situation to avoid “bad publicity” (according to the Freeh report) for the program.
Those wins from 1998-2011 were attained improperly from the standpoint of the overall football program. I understand the players on the field were not involved in the scandal but their coaching staff was. The players unknowingly hitched their wagon to a group of reckless, dishonest coaches and administrators. It’s a harsh lesson in reality. And, truly, when former Nittany Lion players look back at their careers, do they really say, “I was part of a team that won 40 games and three bowls from 2005-08”? I doubt it. They are going to remember the summers of seemingly endless workouts, the joy of coming together as a team rather than a collection of individuals and how participating in the sport of football has enhanced their lives. None of those things can be removed from the hearts of the players. Their hard work, determination and focus are not lost because their head coach was a fraud.
But, because he was a fraud and co-conspirator for the abuse of children under the powerful umbrella of the football program, he certainly doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for his actions.
Paterno is dead, so obviously he’s not benefiting anymore from his previous, egregious abuse of power, but his “legacy” continues to be shaped based on his past actions. It’s how you remember people after they are gone, which shows their true legacy on this earth. I’ll never remember Paterno for 409 wins, 298 wins or anything he did football-wise as head coach of Penn State. I’ll always remember his abuse of power due to his position atop the football program and the pain it has caused so many.
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I suppose one could argue Freeh had an agenda. I may have missed it but I haven't seen anyone suggest that (other than the Paterno family, others under fire, and Penn St apologists). What I see now are former Penn St officials running for cover to protect themselves and blind-eyed fans who need to see the "hand in the cookie jar video that's time stamped and double verified" to believe Paterno could have played a role in any of this.
The wins may still "be there" but it's the least they can do. Now, there will be no statue and no "winningest coach" designation to overshadow his failure to act.
Paterno doesn't get a pass on this in my mind because he's dead. He enabled a colleague to abuse boys. As someone who works in the coaching industry, call me crazy, but I expect coaches to protect the youth above anything else and not place children in harm's way.
As for my "leadership," no, I have never won a game but I also haven't been a major contributor to a heinous child-rape scandal, so I'm comfortable with who I am.