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The news that Joe Paterno died suddenly of lung cancer this week was sad indeed. Paterno, at age 85, had just won the game that gave him the all-time record for coaching victories in Division I football when the scandal caused by his Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, erupted. We need to underline the facts once again. 

A pedophile spends much of his time gaining total support from a young victim’s family, and much of the rest of his time hiding his terrible habit from any public disclosure. When another assistant coach, an intern, saw what he claims was a heinous act by Sandusky with a young kid in a shower, he reported it to Paterno. Now, when you hire someone to work for you as an assistant, you trust him. When he works for quite a few years for you, you trust him more. Paterno might have disbelieved that Sandusky could have committed such an atrocity, but he reported it to his administrative superiors at Penn State. It is at that level that the administrators decided to conceal the information, rather than go to law enforcement officials, apparently to insulate Penn State from being embroiled in scandal. They resigned or were dismissed.

But when Penn State officials chose to fire Paterno immediately, it made it look as though Paterno was covering for Sandusky. In fact, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan called Paterno “an enabler” for Sandusky, and made it sound like Paterno deserved the full measure of disgrace Penn State heaped upon him. Paterno said in retrospect he wished he had done more than he did. But Joe Pa in no way can be blamed for the activities a once-trusted assistant coach might have done in complete secrecy. The students at Penn State, and every player who every played for Paterno, know what he meant to the university and how much Penn State meant to him. And that should remain his legacy. Rest in peace, Joe Paterno.