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Commentary: Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s image ‘disintegrating’

There are few times in life where we witness an institution crumble.

The image of Joe Paterno – synonymous with Penn State football, is disintegrating before us.

He has spent 62 years on the coaching staff, and is an icon surpassing the likes of Woody Hayes.

In an era where college football coaches have the job security equivalent to a housefly’s life expectancy, Paterno has managed to hang on as the Nittany Lions’ head coach for 46 years.

The program has been around since 1887, and Paterno has been the chief of the sidelines — or the booth — for an incredible 45 percent of the program’s games.

Today, none of that matters.

His inaction when innocent children were being deprived of their humanity — in the very facilities that wouldn’t have been built without him — has forever tainted his legacy. Legally, he is absolved because he reported the alleged rape of a 10-year-old boy to his superiors within the university’s administration. Morally, no one who overlooked Jerry Sandusky’s alleged actions can be forgiven. For men who molded the lives of many young adults, they will be remembered for ruining the lives of — at least — nine young children.

Paterno’s biography on the official team website says he “has passionately served the Penn State football program and the university with principle, distinction and success with honor.” After what’s already been made public, those words are hollow.

The best Paterno could muster as far as a public reaction, was a statement crafted by his son. It said that he wants everyone to “let the legal process unfold.”

Thanks to the collective ignorance of Paterno, assistant coach Mike McQueary, former athletic director Tim Curley, former top administrator Gary Schultz and others, the “legal process” hasn’t taken shape until recently.

While PSU’s leadership remained willfully ignorant, Sandusky was allowed to run overnight football camps on PSU’s campus as recently as 2009. That’s seven years after they were made aware of Sandusky’s actions.

After Curley and Schultz resigned, the remaining members of the PSU administration continue to protect Paterno by canceling press conferences and — most importantly — allowing him to keep his job. As Milan Jordan, of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, tweeted, PSU “has done more in 72 hours to protect its football coach than it has done to protect innocent children over the past 13 years.”

It’s difficult to place an event of this magnitude into context — a natural instinct. The only remotely comparable event in the world of college sports is the wildly unethical actions of former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss.

After former Baylor player Carlton Dotson murdered ex-teammate Patrick Dennehy, Bliss attempted to cover up his improper benefit payments to Dennehy by framing him as a drug dealer.

Bliss was never held in the same regard as Paterno, both in terms of character or his team’s success.

That is what makes this situation so unprecedented. Paterno’s sterling reputation and on-field success – which took 46 years as head coach to build – was tarnished as soon as the Pennsylvania state grand jury report came out.

That doesn’t compare to the damage done to the lives of the innocent children, who were molested on the same campus where Paterno’s power looms so large.

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