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This week, members of the Penn State community paid their respects to the fellow who had been the head coach of the football team there for 46 years.
The presence and achievements of Joe Paterno, who died on Sunday at 85, inspired long lines of students, football players, former football players, and many others to walk past the former coach's casket on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. The third day of mourning found thousands of people at a public service held in the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State's basketball arena.
Joe Paterno was revered at Penn State, and his legacy beyond the university was significant. People who love college football would refer to Paterno when they were trying to convince naysayers that the college sports business wasn't entirely corrupt. Joe Paterno's teams won 409 of 548 games, 24 of 37 bowls, and two national championships, and most of his players graduated.
Joe Paterno was a generous benefactor of the university, and though it's fair to say he could afford to be, lots of people who can afford to give generously don't.
So it is ironic that when his coaching career came to an end as a result of allegations that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted children, Joe Paterno said "I should have done more."
In part because neither Joe Paterno nor anyone else in a position of authority at Penn State did more when a graduate assistant told Paterno in 2002 that Sandusky had raped a child in the showers in a Penn State locker room, Joe Paterno was fired in November. The more significant result of that multiple failure to do more was that for almost another decade, Jerry Sandusky was free to continue doing what he has allegedly done to more children.
It is impossible to imagine that Coach Paterno, Penn State former Athletic Director Tim Curley, and former University President Graham Spanier weren't thinking of the impact the news about Sandusky's alleged criminal acts would have on the football program and the university when they decided, ten years ago, not to do more.
Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski is writing a biography of Joe Paterno. He reported this week that shortly before he died, Paterno said of the children whom Jerry Sandusky allegedly abused, "I hope the victims find peace." But if Joe Paterno and the others with the power to "do more" when they were told of Sandusky's alleged crimes had acted ten years ago, some of those alleged victims looking for peace would never have become alleged victims. No individual coach's legacy and no football program's reputation mean much against that sad fact.
This segment aired on January 28, 2012.
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