Beyond the Bison: The legacy of Joe Paterno, for better or for worse

Isabelle Hinckley, Senior Writer

About an hour west from Lewisburg, controversy boils surrounding a celebration of Joe Paterno. It began when Penn State University announced their plans to celebrate Paterno at the Penn State-Temple football game on Sept. 17 to commemorate his first game as coach for the Nittany Lions 50 years earlier.

Lauren Davis, a writer for Penn State’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Collegian, received an overwhelming amount of backlash after writing a controversial editorial last week. She wrote about her disgust and disappointment in the university for honoring a man that was so closely linked to Jerry Sandusky. Since the publication of her article, Davis has received hundreds of hurtful and personal emails from readers. Among other malicious comments, she was called both a traitor and an idiot, and told to resign from her position as opinions editor for the school paper.

As the assistant football coach for the Nittany Lions from 1969 to 1999, Sandusky’s criminal past was uncovered with a series of investigations, linking him to sexual abuse. Flashback to 2012: Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. Sandusky was accused of sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15-year period. The type of abuse ranged from kissing and massages to groping and oral sex. One by one, victims of abuse broke their silence about Sandusky’s manipulation, betrayal, and rape.

So what does this have to do with Paterno? A testimony in one lawsuit argued Paterno actually knew Sandusky was sexually abusing children as far back as the 1970s. Furthermore, they believe he enabled Sandusky’s crimes by not speaking up to stop them. Most upsetting for his close family and friends, this argument would forever change Paterno’s legacy.

Penn State argued the purpose of the ceremony was to focus on Paterno’s unwavering commitment to student-athletes throughout his long career. He was an influential and successful coach, and as a result, the 50-year anniversary of his first game should be properly commemorated. Despite what happened with Sandusky, the University wanted to celebrate Paterno’s incredibly successful career as a football coach.

The facts of the case continue to unfold. In 2012, Paterno died of lung cancer at 85 years old. Fans of Paterno will even argue it was the Sandusky case that ultimately killed him. The controversy was so heartbreaking for Paterno it weakened him beyond the point of revival. But here we are now: it’s 2016, and Penn State decided to publicly honor a coach five years after he was fired for his association with a child abuse scandal.

Was the resulting attack on Davis really necessary? Shouldn’t we support every student in their quest to verbalize personal opinions, controversial or not?

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