This editorial is not intended to rehash the past, the rush to judgment by the media, overreach by the NCAA, missteps taken by the Penn State administration, and the lack of leadership shown by the board of trustees. It’s only to express my continued dismay that legacy of a man, who devoted his entire life to Penn State, continues to languish in the shadows like a forgotten artifact from a time gone by. That man is Joseph Vincent Paterno, who grounded young men in the rules and techniques of football and in the values of life, while also striving to make Penn State an even greater academic institution for the entire student body. Paterno was renowned for his sustained record of building winning football teams, secured on a foundation of academic integrity. For 46 years, Paterno and Penn State football teams earned tremendous respect for their hard played football, wearing plain blue and white uniforms with no names, based on the belief that football is indeed a team sport and above all “Success with Honor.”
I sadly noticed in recent years how well the university has efficiently erased any memory of Paterno. There was the quick removal of his statue and the changing of the Paternoville sign. His statue was next to the stadium, surrounding the field, which served as his laboratory, no less important than any other laboratory on campus. This football field is where he tested hypotheses, developed plans, counseled youngsters, and molded them into men of integrity by teaching them countless lessons and principles of life. Today these men are a testament to all that Paterno stood for. They are part of his legacy, as highly respected citizens in their communities. In addition, a significant number of Paterno’s team members became leaders in their individual professions and highly regarded alumni as well.
The Paternoville sign was near the stadium entrance, where the students pitched tents as they waited in line for games. There, the Paterno family enjoyed conversing with the students and even brought pizzas to the campers. Paterno loved the students, and the students loved Paterno, who became affectionately known as “JoePa”. His concern reached beyond the football field to all the students at Penn State. He wanted every student to experience academic excellence during his or her time at the university. Paterno didn’t just talk about academics and a world-class institution, he put his financial resources behind the talk in building the Paterno wing of the library, and he was instrumental in many other fund raising events. Paterno personified the truly educated individual whose inquisitive mind seeks out many avenues of academic enlightenment.
I believe that Paterno has been unduly wronged, and this wrong needs to be corrected now. Here are my ideas on how this can be accomplished. First, certain items, which were so quickly removed, should be located in the All-Sports Museum. They are the relief of the four players, the quote and the plaques. These important plaques represent the records of those teams, which he coached during his tenure at Penn State. Paterno believed that football was a team sport, and those records should be displayed in a place of honor. Second, the statue should be placed in a prominent location in the Paterno wing of the library, where I am sure Paterno would be very happy to see it reside. I have always loved the photo of Paterno, wearing his Penn State windbreaker and a white shirt with a tie that had a design of books on it. This truly captured the essence of Paterno, showing his love for academics, devotion to Penn State, and his firm belief that major college athletics and academics could co-exist together. Lastly, I suggest that during a special halftime, all of Paterno’s former players walk out onto the field, in order of graduation years, and announce to the attending audience that the men on the field present themselves as living testaments to the true achievements of Paterno. His true legacy is the lives of these men. They are a true reflection of the quality of the teaching, research and outreach accomplished by coach Paterno in his field laboratory at Beaver Stadium, where he proved that excellence in academics and high-caliber competitive football, could not only co-exist, but flourish under the guidance and vision of the great professor Joseph Vincent Paterno. Paterno’s field laboratory will be forever named Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.
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The Penn State family and community have not yet been able to attain a full sense of closure from the loss of Paterno. To truly heal and close this chapter, I believe that it is necessary for the university to outwardly recognize Paterno’s lifetime achievements and publicly honor the legacy of this great man, who dedicated his life to Penn State. Only then can the next chapter at Penn State be written.
Bill Lamont is from Petersburg.