Home » important » Penn State marks Joe Paterno milestone amid criticism over sex abuse scandal
Penn State, Joe Paterno, milestone, sex, abuse, scandal

Penn State marks Joe Paterno milestone amid criticism over sex abuse scandal

Penn State paid tribute on Saturday to Joe Paterno, on the 50th anniversary of his first game as football head coach and despite criticism that such ceremonies are insensitive to victims in the university’s sex abuse scandal.

Jerry Sandusky, who coached on Paterno’s staff for three decades until 1999, was convicted in June 2012 on 45 of 48 charges and is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence. Paterno was never charged with a crime related to the scandal.

Paterno said before his death from lung cancer in 2012 that, with the benefit of hindsight, he wished he had done more to stop Sandusky.

In May, unsealed court documents said a victim complained to Paterno about Sandusky in 1976 and was rebuffed. The university’s president, Eric Barron, has said the allegation was not substantiated in court or tested by any other process.

Moving forward has proven a challenge for Penn State, requiring leaders to balance distancing the university from the scandal with the wishes of ardent Penn State supporters who credit Paterno for giving the university an identity to be proud of.

This weekend’s festivities included a non-university event organized by Paterno’s family and former players on Friday night and fueled debate over whether Paterno should be celebrated in any way.

Prominent former players have led the defense of their coach, whose career included 409 victories, the most in college football history, but ended with a phone call from the board of trustees who fired him amid the Sandusky scandal.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Franco Harris said on Friday that Penn State’s acknowledgment of Paterno’s achievements was a “good first step” but said he’d like to see a formal apology to the Paterno family from the board of trustees.

Before Saturday’s game, Harris and fellow Penn State star Lydell Mitchell talked to fans at the site where a statue of Paterno was removed by the university shortly after the scandal broke.

Fans left bricks and homemade signs and took pictures. One woman wiped a tear from her eye as she placed a brick at the site, about two hours before kickoff.

Early in the second quarter in the match-up with in-state rival Temple, Beaver Stadium announcer Dean DeVore directed fans’ attention to two high-definition video boards for a two-minute video featuring highlights of Paterno’s career.

As soon as Paterno’s familiar image appeared – shirt and tie, thick glasses and rolled-up pants – fans erupted and kept cheering as DeVore read from a statement highlighting Paterno’s commitment to student athletes and academics.

Paterno’s “Grand Experiment”, which placed emphasis on academics and proved athletes could also be top students, is a source of pride for Penn Staters who credit Paterno for giving the university an identity to be proud of.

“Before he became head coach in 1966, Joe Paterno spoke about recruiting more football players who were exceptional students,” DeVore said.

“He was determined to bring to Penn State students who could earn a world-class education and graduate and play football at the highest level.”