The name Joe Paterno has stirred emotions at Penn State for generations. Until a few years ago all those emotions were good – pride, strength, old school football. Then came a series of horrific allegations of child rape that landed a longtime defensive assistant in prison and forever tarnished JoePa, who died shortly after the news hit.
Some time has passed, and longtime Nittany Lions fans want to celebrate the good that was Joe Paterno’s legacy with the 50th-anniversary celebration of his first game as head coach at Penn State. But has enough time passed?
There will never be enough time, say some Penn State students, particularly those at the student newspaper, who are livid about the plans to honor Paterno. An editorial in the Daily Collegian said the college and the anniversary supporters need a reality check. After all, the current crop of undergraduates ONLY know Paterno through the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
The article says Paterno is no longer a hero at Penn State, and that the university should be ready to move on. Alumni and longtime boosters beg to differ. While the debate as to what and how much Paterno knew about Sandusky continues to flair up every time JoePa’s name is mentioned, this offshoot of that debate may drag the entire issue back into a very uncomfortable spotlight.
The crux of the issue is a battle of generations. The older generation remembers the coach who brought their program to perennial national prominence, who made certain Penn State was the brand of football opponents feared and fans loved to cheer.
The younger generation reviles the coach, his assistant, and the system that protected predators for years. They want nothing to do with that legacy, and they expect the others to catch up with their perspective whether they want to or not.
Then there’s the group in the middle. They grew up idolizing Paterno and the Lions … then they felt the shock, the betrayal, and the agony of the horrible reveal. Most of these folks struggle with their feelings about the case. They detest what Sandusky did, and the cover-up that followed, and they dread even thinking about Paterno’s role in the entire tragedy. Both sides of the debate want this group in their camp in order to swing overwhelming public opinion about the issue.
For the moment, the college is continuing with its plans to honor Paterno in the school’s game against Temple on September 17. Not that far away, but plenty of time to rip open all kinds of not nearly healed wounds.
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