Paterno’s Legacy – And Ours, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 26 2012 @ 10:57am


A reader writes:

Why do so many people feel the need to ask, "In light of the scandal, how do we remember Joe Paterno?" Why can’t we remember him and his life exactly as it happened? One heinous act does not undo all the good he did in his life, much like a major kindness does not undo a life of evil. Joe Paterno was an excellent football coach whom many considered to be a paragon of morality, good will, dedication and service. But he also made mistakes, most notably he failed to act on information concerning the safety of children and in all likelihood enabled the further abuse of children. But most importantly he was a human, and like all of us he is neither black nor white, but some shade of grey. The need to classify him into a category of "good" or "evil" seems like folly to me.

Another writes:

I debated whether or not to share this, but as everyone has been sharing their "JoePa stories" lately, I thought it'd be appropriate to share mine.

Despite attending Penn State University, I never had the opportunity to meet JoePa. I heard stories of friends that had – most memorably two friends who, while out riding their bikes, saw him driving home from practice on the eve of the 2005 Ohio State game. They decided to follow him all the way into his garage so that they could shake his hand and wish him luck. Instead of being weirded out (which would have been pretty understandable) he was very gracious and thanked them for the support.

Last month, I was visiting Penn State for a number of different reasons. While I was there, I wanted to show my support for Joe in light of his cancer diagnosis and how he had been mistreated by the University and the press (based on incomplete information and misinformation) in the last month. I decided to leave him a note expressing my support along with a blue and white bouquet of flowers. I felt awkward approaching the Paternos' home. I had heard stories of students and alumni that had walked right up, rung the doorbell, and been welcomed in by Joe and Sue – in some cases, even being fed by Sue – but having never met the Paternos, I didn't have the nerve. I left the note and bouquet on their doorstep and walked away.

Three days later, I received a text from my Mom: "Does Joe Pa live on McKee St? If so, you got a card from him."

I think my jaw must have dropped about five feet. I was absolutely stunned that Joe and Sue would take the time to send me a card. Later, when I read the card, I was even more humbled by what it contained. Joe and Sue thanked me for the flowers and the note and said that Joe was drawing strength in his battle with cancer from all the support he had received from Penn Staters. They said that it was "good to be reminded of what we were trying to accomplish at Penn State." They said that after they finished "getting Joe healthy," they would work to remind people of the values that Joe had tried to impart during his time at Penn State. The card was signed, "Very fondly, Joe and Sue Paterno"

But here is the most amazing thing about all of this and what shocks me even to this day: I DIDN'T LEAVE ANY CONTACT INFORMATION WITH MY NOTE. I had signed the note with my name, and mentioned my graduation year, but had been very intentional about not leaving an address, email address, phone number – anything. This means that Sue (I have to think it was her, given Joe's health at the time), despite receiving hundreds of letters from alumni per day, took the time to look me up in the alumni directory (which still contained my parents' address at the time) and send me a card. The Paternos had never met me before; I'm not a huge donor to the school; I'm not someone important who can do anything for them; I'm just another alum. And they went way out of their way to send me a thank you card THE VERY NEXT DAY.

Recently, Penn Staters have been characterized as football-crazed idiots for supporting JoePa despite the allegations made against him in the press. I can tell you that Penn Staters' love for JoePa has almost nothing to do with football. Penn Staters are the Paternos' life work and legacy. Joe never missed an opportunity to remind us that success is only valuable when it comes with honor, and that all of us – football players or not – were at college primarily to gain an education, broaden our horizons, and become better people. It is not an overstatement to say that a part of who I am today is directly because of Joe Paterno and his love for Penn State.

And Penn State loves him back. Thank you, Coach.

Another sends the above photo:

Though a long-time reader, and a big fan of VFYW, I've never been one to take a picture from my window – until today, that is.  I stood up from my experiment in which I was taking pictures of growing plants and, using the same camera, snapped this of Joe Paterno's funeral procession driving past.

State College, Pennsylvania, 4.40 pm.