By Dr. Jack Singer
Certainly the storied career of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has left many praising his legacy of career wins, devotion and loyalty to his university for so many decades, and his concern with providing a wonderful role model for the young men under his tutelage.
Sadly, the end of his career seriously tarnished the image of his decades of honor and success. Pundits will be debating for years whether to give Joe credit for what he accomplished or to revile him for what he did not do, with respect to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse situation.
But it is precisely what he did not do that may be his greatest legacy after all. Because of what Joe did not do, sensitivity to the horrors of child sexual abuse (in and out of sports) is now at its highest level ever. Safeguards have become instituted in universities across the nation and victims are now encouraged to come forward, rather than living lives of secrecy and mental torment.
These crimes and sexual predators will always be among us, but because of the exposure of the Penn State situation, coaches, athletic directors, college deans and families of athletes will be on the lookout for signs and symptoms and as a result, countless abuses undoubtedly will be prevented.
Shortly after his dismissal, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer and broke his hip. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments weakened him, robbing him of his hair and his once-booming voice. In fact, in a recent interview with the Washington Post, he appeared frail, wearing a wig and speaking in a whisper. He canceled public appearances after the interview because of his failing health, according to family members and there was public speculation about how rapidly Mr. Paterno began physically failing when he gave every appearance of being hale and hearty just before he was relieved of his post.
It is really no surprise that a man who was so passionately devoted to his career and who suffered such major and humiliating stress, and the “death” of everything that he was justly famous for that his immune system deteriorated so dramatically and could not fight off the ravages of his illness.
For Paterno’s legion of fans, who referred to the coach affectionately as “JoePa,” the turbulent final months of Paterno’s life were a tragic end to an outstanding coaching career that was built around his motto of “success with honor.”
Rest In Peace Joe Paterno.