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Joe Paterno: An All-American Life, Story, and Legacy

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For most of my middle school years, my parents and I lived in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Wedged squarely between Philadelphia and New York City, it could and should be described as the very tenderloin of the Northeast.

I never cared an iota for professional athletics. To me, getting riled up about watching somebody throw a ball around a court or field was, and still is, completely ridiculous. Nonetheless, I could not help but become inundated with praise for, and eventually genuine admiration for, a certain college football coach named Joe Paterno. Though I could hardly relate to the nature of his job, I saw what a dedicated leader and inspiring figure he was. Deep down, I hoped to acquire these skills someday and apply them to my professional and personal lives.

It is unfortunate that, with all the tremendous good that he did, Paterno’s legacy will be forever associated with the ongoing Jerry Sandusky nightmare. However, we must not forget that Paterno did nothing illegal, and actually followed Penn State protocol in dealing with the allegations against his former assistant. One can attribute his being fired to rash political calculations on the part of Penn State’s board of trustees, whose members wanted a quick and simple fix for an extraordinarily complex problem.

As the undisputed titan of college sports, Paterno served not only Penn State, but the nation and even the rest of the world as well. He did this for nearly five decades, gaining the respect of untold millions in the process. In such a fractious arena as commercialized athletics, he truly served as a uniter, not a divider. Many in the Keystone State and beyond have said it is essentially impossible that there will ever be another coach like him, and I am inclined to agree. Paterno was our era’s ultimate personification of the expression, “one of a kind.”

In the end, he died of natural causes, namely lung cancer, and had the love of family, friends, and fans few will ever be so lucky to experience. He lived his life to its fullest, told a uniquely American story along the way, and left a formidable legacy at which we can only gaze in awe.

Think whatever you might about him, but JoePa really was one of a kind.

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About Joseph F. Cotto