Remember Paterno’s Success—and Failure

“JoePa” was among the most widely known and yes, beloved college football coaches in the nation. But when Joe Paterno died at 85 on Sunday, his legacy was clouded.

Paterno was Penn State University’s head football coach for decades. No other major college coach had won more games during his career.

But Paterno insisted his players be winners on and off the field. He insisted they were students first, athletes second. “Success with honor” was his motto.

People liked that. They revered Paterno because he proved it was possible to field a winning team composed of young men who worked hard in the classroom and showed sportsmanship on the field.

But Paterno made a very serious mistake, revealed last year when a former subordinate was arrested on charges of sexually abusing children.

Paterno was made aware of the allegations years ago and did not do enough to bring the man, Jerry Sandusky, to justice. No one knows yet how many children were hurt because the abuse was not stopped sooner.

Paterno’s story, then, is among the saddest in college athletics. A man whose career at one time was a shining example of leadership and yes, compassion, died under a very dark shadow.

The lesson is clear, as Paterno himself must have recognized: Just one serious lapse in judgment can have devastating effects on an otherwise stellar career.

It is appropriate – necessary, in fact – that “JoePa” be remembered for both greatness and one terrible failure.