As the death of Joe Paterno continues to be a widely discussed topic in sport ever since his passing on early Sunday morning, a reoccurring topic has been the irreversible effect that the Sandusky scandal will always have on his legacy. In a career that, for years, was seen as the picture of everything right with college football, one permanent stain will always blemish what was otherwise one of the greatest legacies in the history of sport.
This leads me to question: What if just one thing had been different?
What if Jerry Sandusky had never been hired at Penn State? Or what if Sandusky had just been a normal dude, instead of an abusive psychopath? Or what if Paterno had immediately gone straight to the proper authorities? How different would his legacy be? And how different would the reactions and conversations have been during the past 48 hours?
There is certainly no realistic way to measure how one small change in the time/space continuum could have altered his future. However there is one thing I do believe.
I believe Joe Paterno would still be alive.
For quite some time it has been evident that Penn State University and its football program are what JoePa lived for. He loved the university more than many love their next of kin. Throughout his illustrious career he saw many top dollar offers to coach at the next level or elsewhere in the NCAA, but Paterno stayed loyal to the first and only team he ever coached. He reinvested himself in Penn State University tenfold. He built one of the most historic and recognizable football programs in the NCAA, and helped develop an identity for the entire university.
In short, Penn State was the thing that got JoePa out of bed in the morning. When that was taken away from him. So was his ability to go on.
Now while some may see this as morbid or insensitive, it is not intended to be that. I feel deeply for every person close to Paterno and his family. I have experienced loss, but I have no idea what they are feeling or how they are handling this experience. However, I hope that everyone can find consolation in believing that Joe Paterno is resting in peace. The regret and remorse that he must have felt for not taking further action in the Sandusky scandal is a burden then he most certainly didn’t deserve to bear, especially considering everything he had meant to Penn State, the NCAA and the entire sports world.
While the lasting effect of the Sandusky scandal will forever change the way things are remembered at Penn State, I would love to believe that JoePa’s part in everything will never be made to be more than it was. He was a great man who did extraordinary things for Penn State University. He sadly, also made one grave mistake.