Some of Joe Paterno’s former players reacted to his decision to retire at the end of the season Wednesday.
Those players were also coming to grips with the shocking allegations of sexual abuse against former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky and perjury charges against two Penn State officials.
“It’s shocking, all that’s transpired here right now,” former linebacker Jack Ham told the Centre Daily Times on Wednesday. “No. 1 for the victims of all of this. They’re the people that are really hurt.”
Ham, who went on to a Pro Bowl career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, currently does color commentary for radio broadcasts of Penn State's football games. He reflected Wednesday afternoon on what Paterno meant to him and to his team.
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“I thought about what he was always trying to do at Penn State through his and our careers of making the university better,” Ham said. “I thought about what he did for me. He gave me an opportunity when I was an 18-year-old kid. Not just me but other players along the way as well.
“It’s very sad the way this is ending,” Ham added.
Paterno had been coaching from the press box this season after being injured during a preseason practice collision with one of his players. There was speculation that this season might have been his last even before the grand jury released its findings in the Sandusky case last week.
“I’m extremely saddened that Joe has to retire under this decision,” said Rich Mauti, a former wide receiver. “But I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have retired after this season anyway. It doesn’t take away from the history and all the people he’s touched and the things that he’s done, but it leaves a huge asterisk next to the legacy he’s developed.”
There is still the chance Penn State’s Board of Trustees would decide to end Paterno’s career before the end of the season or even before the Nittany Lions meet Nebraska this Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
“I hope he gets the opportunity to finish out the season,” Mauti said. “I hope he gets the opportunity to walk out with some dignity."