RSS
Remembering Joe Paterno: Will Penn State's sex-abuse scandal ruin his legacy?
JoePa may be the greatest college football coach ever, but will the "sordid" controversy that defined his final months overshadow his glory?
 
The late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno after a 1974 win: Despite his record-setting 409 victories, the beloved coach's reputation may be forever tainted by a sex-abuse scandal that unfolded on his watch.
The late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno after a 1974 win: Despite his record-setting 409 victories, the beloved coach's reputation may be forever tainted by a sex-abuse scandal that unfolded on his watch.
Bettmann/Corbis

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno succumbed to lung cancer Sunday at age 85, his death coming a mere 74 days after he was forced to resign from a job he'd held for 46 years. Despite being praised as a "marvel and a legend," described as "a man with a philanthropic heart," and setting the record for most wins by a Division I college football coach (409), he may be remembered most for his failure to vigorously investigate allegations that his former assistant had molested young boys. Will the controversy overshadow Paterno's unparalleled coaching career?

His reputation is forever damaged: The sad truth is that Joe Paterno's name will forever be "tarnished — perhaps irredeemably" — by "one of the ugliest, most sordid scandals the U.S. sporting world has ever witnessed," says Palash R. Ghoush at the International Business Times. Though Paterno may still go down as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football, the distinction will always be followed by an asterisk. "The stench of the ongoing child-sex horror will accompany his name for eternity."
"Joe Paterno dead: A permanently tarnished legacy"

Once the dust settles, we'll mostly remember his incredible career: Now that Paterno is gone, "his legacy can be viewed in the manner it should," says Mike Lopresti at USA Today, "and not just the dark shadows and anguished voices of the past three months." He is a man who accomplished things that no coach ever will again. He lived such a big, admirable life that "it can't all be swallowed whole by a scandal." Sure, he's no longer St. Joe. But he also will not be remembered merely as some "thoughtless caretaker of a soul-less football machine." His legacy will reflect "the honor of a life remarkably well lived."
"Lopresti: View his legacy as it should be viewed"

Opinion of JoePa will forever be divided: Paterno will be as polarizing in death as he was in the last months of his life, says Matt Murschel at the Orlando Sentinel. Penn State loyalists will "revere the coaching legend for his 46 years of service," fondly recalling his 409 wins and charitable nature. "And then there will be those who vilify the man." In their eyes, he is someone who failed to stand up for the rights of alleged sex-abuse victims. These camps just can't be reconciled, and Paterno's "legacy will always be one of mixed emotions."
"Joe Paterno will be remembered in different ways"

It's way too soon to tell: "We live in a talk show/TV pundit world where instant judgments are rendered," says Bob Ryan at The Boston Globe. With emotions over the scandal still so raw and unsettled, "everyone is way too close to the action to think clearly." As "true historians" know, it takes time and perspective to arrive at firm conclusions.
"It wasn't supposed to end this way for Paterno"

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week