Monday, January 23, 2012

Remember the Best or Remember the Worst

Joe Paterno died yesterday of complications due to lung cancer.  While he is the winningest coach in NCAA football history, he tarnished his legacy by not report sexual abuse allegations directed towards his friend and long-time assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, and was fired early in the 2011 season for his transgression.  After his dismissal, the statue of him outside of Penn State's football stadium was removed and he left the game in shame.  Many, including myself, had strong feelings of disdain towards Joe Paterno.  I am a teacher and when the scandal broke, all I could think about was that it could have been one of my students... and that made me enraged.

Now Joe Paterno is dead and has met the only Judge whose ruling really matters.  Here on Earth, though, we have a new question to ask: how should we remember Joe Paterno?  This thought came to sweeping over me as I read an article by Rick Reilly, and it can be found here.  The basic point of the article is that what Paterno did, or in this case failed to do, was horrendous; but should we only remember him for this one, albeit devastating, mistake.  Reilly then tells the story of a young football player who Paterno mentored and supported through a long paralysis battle.  A very touching story, indeed.

On one hand there is Joe Paterno the football coach, who pushed his players not only to be good athletes but also to be good people; he would do literally anything for his guys' good.  On the other hand, there is Joe Paterno the concealer, one of many men who could have saved dozens of children from a life time of shame and embarrassment (it is only fair and right that it be noted that Paterno was not the only guilty party).  What should he be remembered for?

I think about this, and then I think about my own life.  I have made plenty of mistakes, and I do not know of anyone who could say differently about me or, furthermore, about themselves.  If I were to die, I would want to be remembered for the good that I have done, not for my mistakes.  I am confident that Joe Paterno desired the same.  Many people say that he forfeited that right when he failed to do anything about the sex abuse that was happening right under his nose.  I, however, disagree.  I am not saying that we should not remember that or disassociate him with the scandal because he is dead; he made a mistake and his namesake will have to deal with the consequences of it.  We cannot, though, ignore the good that he did during his life as well.  There will always be a huge black spot on his legacy, and deservedly so.  I still am furious that these children were not protected and that nothing was done to help them.  However, we also need to think about the dozens of young men that he pushed to be better than they were, not only on the field but as aspiring businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and other workers.

It is a shame that in one instance he could not follow his own teachings.  But before you disagree with me, I want you to think about your darkest secret, the thing you would be horrified about if the world knew all about it.  And now think about it coming to light a couple months before your death.  How would you want to be remembered?  We ask ourselves if we should remember the best or remember the worst.  I say that it is only fair to remember both.

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