Even Joe Paterno Must Be Accountable

Penn State Coach's Legacy Will Live On After Sex Scandal

Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.
getty images
Tarnished Hero: Penn State fans posing next to a statue of ex-coach Joe Paterno. The revered figure was fired over his role in a child sex scandal involving a former coach.

By Laurie Stern

Published November 15, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

But occasionally I’ll look to my right or left and be alarmed by the sea of faces cheering and dancing around me unabashedly, uncritically.

We have been groomed to be this way since the first day of freshman year. It’s one of the reasons that the school boasts the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world. It’s all for one, one for all, and keeping that mantra intact was part of what led to the administration’s failings.

Avodah zarah, or idolatry, is a dangerous thing. In the wake of the press conference announcement of Paterno’s firing, some fans chose to rake his leaves and to shower him and his family with gifts of flowers and balloons. Shouts of “We love you, Joe” could be heard each time the door of his modest home was opened. Suddenly the Sandusky case became about Paterno and his tarnished legacy instead of the children who may have suffered at the hand of a pedophile.

Paterno needed to go in order for the university to affirm that authority figures are not immune from accountability for their actions, or in this case, their inactions. And though it hurts — as sudden change after 46 years of stability surely does — it’s the only way for the Penn State community to begin to heal.

There has been talk of dismantling the bronze statue of Paterno that sits outside the football stadium walls, and of erasing his likeness from community murals and renaming buildings. Penn Staters aren’t sure if it’s still okay to drink coffee out of a “We love our Joe” mug or to wear a “Joe Knows Football” T-shirt. The Big Ten athletic conference has already removed his name from the championship trophy.

It would be impossible, unthinkable, to try to erase him from the hearts and memories of the community. Instead, the name Paterno should serve as a catalyst for change. It will be a reminder that the safety and welfare of human beings, particularly children, will always reign supreme over the power of men, the public image of a school, or the outcome of a football game.

Laurie Stern, a former Forward intern, is a senior at Penn State and an investigative reporter on the school’s paper.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.