Monday, January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno: Gainer's Take on His Legacy

My uncle (on the left obviously!) Lance Mehl as team captain in 1979

At 85 years old, we lost a legend of the grid iron.  Joe Paterno died this past weekend and it’s kind of bittersweet ain’t it?  One can look at his nearly half century as head coach and nearly 500 wins and say he is the greatest football coach of all time.  Then another can look at him these past few months and say that he’s a monster.  Regardless of how you feel, being in a position of power and status is difficult.  I can’t imagine what JoePa went through this past year. 

Joe Paterno and Penn State University mean a lot to me and my family.  My dad’s brother (my uncle) Lance Mehl played linebacker for JoePa from 1976 to the National Championship of 1980 (lost to those scumbags of Alabama).  My father “Larry” is a Penn State fan first and foremost.  It’s in our blood even if me or my brother don’t love them (we’re kind of UGA Dawg fans!).  To the white outs in the stands to the weird story of how the Nittany Lion even became the mascot (Wikipedia it, interesting), PSU football is just football history.  As classic as the uniforms, Joe Paterno was, is, and will always be Penn State football.  That can be for better or worse.

I am not here to condone any actions JoePa and his staff (Jerry Sandusky in particular) partook of these past few months.  Honestly, I am not even sure what his legacy will be.  I know in Happy Valley, people will look fondly back on JoePa.  Most sports writers and your casual sports fan will look past the transgressions and focus on his on the field accomplishments.  However it is difficult to define your legacy by just athletic accomplishments because your character is so much of that. 

My cousin, and one of Lance’s kids, had this to say on the day of JoePa’s passing:

“Some people will forgive and forget the negativity of the past few months and remember all of his great contributions to Penn State. Other people will focus on the scandal and condemn.

I think it's more meaningful to consider both his successes and his failures. Don't try to judge, because at this point, depending on what you believe, it's either not your place or it's meaningless. Instead, just try to understand what he was through his actions, without looking through rose-colored or scandal-tainted lenses. Don't forget what he did or did not do in his time at Penn State, but learn from them both.”

I hope this is what we all do because we cannot judge, God is and already has passed judgment.  This past November, my uncle did a special piece with his hometown newspaper and shares his thoughts on JoePa, his former head coach.  The link for you to read is below:

There’s also a piece on there with Lance sharing his thoughts on Sandusky who personally recruited him and was at his wedding.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for JoePa because, in a weird way, he’s family.  I won’t like everything he did but like family, you do your best to forgive the ones you love.  I pray for his family and close friends that their lives can go on smoothly.  Penn State football will continue with a new head coach and a new era but PSU football was built on Joe Paterno and his desire to build a great program around great student-athletes.

Finally, here’s a tribute video ESPN did a few years back.  While there will most likely be many questions left unanswered, I always like to think about someone in a positive light and I hope this does for you.