I did not attend Penn State, nor have I ever lived in Pennsylvania, yet I have been a lifelong Penn State fan because of Joseph Vincent Paterno. He was by far my most admired sports figure as long as I can remember. I am a pretty stoic person, yet when I learned of Paterno's passing I sat down on my kitchen table and began sobbing. I could go on and on trying to defend myself about how much JoePa meant to me, but I'm pretty sure any of you that follow me on Twitter are already well aware of this.
Yet, for as high regard as I hold Paterno, I cannot bring myself to sign one of the many petitions that have been circulating for months that call for Penn State to honor JoePa with "Joe Paterno Field." I obviously think that Paterno deserves to be honored, yet there are so many reasons why "Joe Paterno Field" should not to be one of them.
This isn't about Penn State trying to distance itself from the Paterno brand. Penn State and Paterno were synonymous with one another for decades. Even if the university decided to wipe all trace of Paterno from its history, there are just too many reminders of how Paterno helped build the former "farm college" into a world-class university. When rumors surfaced that Penn State would tear down the Paterno statue in November, a friend told me "They can tear down the statue, take his name off the library and erase his name from the record books. They can't erase our memories." After spending decades being the person most closely associated with the university, there is no magical formula to dissolve the past.
Paterno was not a deity. You would have to be naive to think that any successful person got to where they are in life without stepping on a few toes and pissing some people off along the way. He was a flawed human, just like the rest of us. As he admitted, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." And maybe he should have done more (as a former CYS employee, I can assure you there wasn't much more he could do, but that's another post for another day). But as much as some would like you to think, he was not an evil conspirator who would let children be harmed to protect his own self-interests. Unless some evidence suggests otherwise, his track record speaks for itself in regards to how much he cared about the lives of others.
First of all, Paterno would have cringed at the thought of having any part of Beaver Stadium named after him. Paterno always found a way to deflect any recognition that came his way. Any time he reached one of his numerous milestone victories, he would simply side-step the reporter's question to say something along the lines of, "This is a great group of kids. They've work so hard and I'm just happy for them." Joe assuredly tore down his players in private, but never missed an opportunity to publicly praise them when they earned it. Paterno obviously had somewhat of an ego to get as far as he did in life, yet it's hard to imagine him being comfortable with this type of recognition.
Secondly, if most Paterno admirers listed the reasons they held him in such high regard, winning football games likely would not be too high on the list. He was an icon for the many qualities he stood for while striving to always stay true to his Grand Experiment. Let the other colleges name their stadiums and fields after to honor their football coaches. A library that bears his name and a statue in front of the quote "I hope they write, I made Penn State a better place. Not that I was just a good football coach," symbolizes Paterno's true nature far more of his impact than a name on part of a football stadium.
"Joe Paterno Field" won't add anything more to JoePa's legacy. His legacy will live on through the massive amount of lives that he touched during his tenure at Penn State. It will live on with the legions of people who he helped inspire to make the most of their short time on this earth. When you get out of bed in the morning, ask yourself "What will I do to make an impact today?" Then go out and do it. That will make JoePa's legacy live on in an infinitely more meaningful way than the title "Joe Paterno Field" ever could.
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