With the passing of Coach Joe Paterno, I find myself feeling a myriad of emotions. I was a fan of Joe Paterno just like millions of others. Even though I have no affiliation to Penn State, I still admired Paterno and the great football program he built. I have been a fan of a lot of the great players that Paterno had at Penn State as well. But even though I admired the winning and the tradition Paterno exemplified through the years at Penn State, the Jerry Sandusky scandal is a harsh reminder that winning football games will never be as important as real life.
I’ve stated before that I felt Joe Paterno should have retired years ago. Sometimes as a leader one of the most important things you need to do is to know when to pass the baton of leadership to someone else. It’s obvious that Paterno did many great things, and helped many people during his tenure at Penn State. But even with all of the great deeds a leader can accomplish, at some point time can pass you by. And when you over stay your welcome, you run the risk of doing more harm than good, and maybe even undoing many of the good things you’ve done.
At Penn State it seems in some ways Football became more important than life. The need to win and protect a legacy became more important than the safety of children. I remember when administrators wanted Joe Paterno to retire, and there was so much passion in his defiance of them to remain Head Coach. But where was that passion when Joe Paterno learned that Jerry Sandusky was abusing children?
Does the fact that Joe Paterno was an old man excuse him from not being more proactive with the Sandusky situation? No, it doesn’t. But it’s not all his fault. Paterno was deified by Penn State. A living legend. A football coach who was the most powerful person at the school. But this is the kind of environment that encourages and promotes arrogance in leadership and the ignorance of those deemed irrelevant in the pursuit of victory and glory.
Joe Paterno should be honored for his many accomplishments in life and his legacy as a football coach. But many lessons can be learned by studying his ultimate failure as a leader. Even a living legend has to have perspective. Even an old king needs to realize that as you expand your empire, you can’t forget about the people right outside your castle who need to be protected and defended. I can’t pass judgment on Joe Paterno, because we all make mistakes in life. But I can only hope that we can learn something from Joe Paterno’s mistakes, even while we salute and honor his success.