Retirement Guys: Paterno: Just a football coach?Written by Nolan Baker Mark Clair | | email@example.com
The longtime football coach Joe Paterno of Penn State University died recently after a coaching career of over 40 years. Many, especially the students and alumni of Penn State, considered him a legend. “Joe Pa” was the winningest coach in Division I college football history with 409 victories and personally donated millions of dollars to the university. Some would compare him to coaching legends like Bo Schembechler of Michigan, Woody Hayes of Ohio State, Tom Osborne of Nebraska, Ara Parseghian of Notre Dame and Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama. The question I (Mark) ask is why? Why is a football coach revered as much or more than any hero we can think of?
I have to say that personally I never really had a great impression of Paterno. I found his attitude arrogant and abrasive and he seemed to me someone who knew he was very powerful and used it to his advantage. He seemed to always want to defiantly want to do things his way. Right down to when he was going to step aside in light of the recent sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Rather than step aside immediately, he decided that he would retire at the end of the year. This was after many thought he should have retired a long time ago. The allegations of sexual abuse of young boys by his longtime friend Sandusky who was a coach on Paterno’s staff for many years, and considered at one time the heir apparent, are at the very least horribly disturbing.
Why was Joe Paterno or any other football coach considered a legend? Revered enough to have a statue erected in his honor. Loved enough that when he was fired students protested almost to the point of riot. Isn’t at the end of the day football just a game that kids play? I am a huge sports fan and my wife Lisa is in no way a sports fan. Once a year I drag her to watch one of my favorite teams play a game and I am sure she is humoring me by going. She would much rather be home in her jammies watching the latest episode of “The Real Housewives.” She thinks all the importance that people put on sports is dummmmmmmmbbbbbb! Maybe you really have to be a hard-core sports fan to understand.
Sports, first of all, is a divine distraction. Many kids grow up loving to play sports. Their childhood heroes are the best players on their favorite team. I can recall as a kid being able to imitate all of the batting stances of the players on my favorite team, The Detroit Tigers. Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Norm Cash and the rest of the team that won the 1968 World Series. When you reach adulthood and the disappointing reality hits you that you will never be good enough to play in the pros, you resign yourself to being a fan. You follow your team religiously, watching games on TV, going to an occasional game, and checking the stats every day. NFL football is probably the number one rated television show in America. We all have many responsibilities in life and when things get stressful we always have the distraction of watching a game or checking to see if your team won that day. If they did, no matter what else has happened, it is a good day.
Secondly, sports is a way people bond. Many of us have memories of going to a game with our fathers or mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc. It can promote family togetherness as we all gather for a party to watch the big game. I had the opportunity last January as a celebration of my 50th birthday to go to Detroit Tigers fantasy camp in Lakeland, Florida. I had the chance to hang out with boyhood heroes and “pretend” to play baseball with in a real Tigers uniform with my name on the back (check out the 3-part article “When a Game Isn’t Just a Game” from last year about my experience at http://www.toledofreepress.com/2011/02/04/retirement-guys-when-a-game-isnt-a-game-part-one/, be sure to read parts 2 and 3 as well). Al Kaline was actually there! The people participating were obviously true fans and even though I did not know any of them, we bonded.
Thirdly, sports teaches us many positive things. As for Joe Paterno just being a football coach, many would beg to differ. Colin Cowherd was discussing it the other day on ESPN Radio. He pointed out that Paterno rather than a coach was really a teacher. Over his career he recruited over 2000 players that he took under us wing. He taught them things like discipline, hard work, setting goals, perseverance, teamwork, character, tenacity, the importance of study, and much, much, more. A testament to his effect on people’s lives is how many have turned out to pay their respects. Even though I haven’t really cared for his demeanor, I bet if I really knew him I would think of him much differently. He was more than just a football coach and sports can be much more than just a game.
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Tags: Alabama, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State University, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Penn State University, The Retirement Guys, Tom Osborne, University of Michigan, Woody hayes