Even harder to bear, at least for me, have been the tasteless comments, unsympathetic actions and excuses made by those who continue to defend Paterno. This has given outsiders the view that Penn Staters are callous football nuts, when in reality, the university teaches students to conduct themselves with integrity and compassion. In the wake of the Penn State scandal, many alumni and fans have upheld those core values.
But from the students who rioted in November to former players who refuse to see the truth about their beloved coach, others made fools of themselves.
And for what? Paterno? A man we trusted. A man who, as shown by Louis Freeh's investigation, decided to ignore claims of child abuse. The man who, even after he made a mistake, could have admitted it at any time, but went to his grave lying to us.
Almost everyone I know admired and respected JoePa. For me, he was the sometimes-crotchety old coach at the university I attended. He was, as some friends used to say, a grandfatherly presence.
But for others, he became an idol or deity - someone to worship and never question. This is why Paterno's sudden and rapid fall from grace was so shocking.
Some - likely out of grief, confusion or denial - reacted poorly. They refuse to blame Paterno for his own downfall and continue to cling to his once-sterling reputation.
My heart sank last month, when I received a news release from Penn State York. Alumni and former players arranged an Aug. 29 screening of a film that "pays tribute to Paterno's 'Grand Experiment' of combining successful athletics and academics." According to the release, "The Joe We Know" film was made for Paterno and is intended to memorialize his place in Penn State history.
The email came just before the final chapter of Paterno's legacy was inked.
I contacted alumni relations after the Freeh report was released. The screening was still on.
I contacted alumni relations again after the NCAA sanctions were announced. The screening was still on. And I learned that more than 400 people attended a screening of "The Joe We Know" at Harrisburg's Whitaker Center late last month.
It wasn't advertised, one organizer explained in an email, because they didn't want any controversy. By showing the movie only to groups that request to see it, I'm sure most viewers will likely praise a documentary that only tells part of the Paterno story.
For some, it might be easier to pretend that JoePa is still on a pedestal. "The
So, the movie focuses on the Grand Experiment and the positive impact Paterno had on his players.
But after the investigations and sanctions, a new portrait emerged of Paterno - a man of great ideals who let pride trump responsibility.
Then, this week, I was asked by organizers to publicize the screening at Penn State York. How can I without addressing the facts?
It would be disingenuous to show a film about the positive impact of The Second Mile without mentioning the crimes of Sandusky, the man who started the charity.
"The Joe We Know" should include an epilogue or discussion to address the fact that Paterno protected his precious football program to a fault.
The Paterno I thought I knew would have helped put Sandusky in jail more than a decade ago. It was sad to lose that grandfatherly figure - both in body and spirit. I can imagine the loss was much greater for those who were close to him.
But does losing a role model trump all those young children who lost their innocence? Indeed it does not.
And if Paterno's Grand Experiment was completely successful, why are some lettermen focusing on a fallen idol while the greater issue of child abuse still looms?
How would Sandusky victims and their families feel about "The Joe We Know"? Why possibly cause them any more pain?
Paterno sealed his own fate. His statue and records are gone. He caused perhaps irreparable damage to his own football program. Due to the sanctions related to the Sandusky scandal, more innocent people - players, State College business owners and fans - will suffer.
I guess the irony is lost on the "The Joe We Know" crowd.
Football is nothing more than a game. Some at Penn State valued winning over children's safety. That's shameful and embarrassing.
Penn State needs to correct its failed system. Sandusky's victims need to heal. We should learn from the past instead of living in it.
And we should just let Paterno go instead of trying to figure out if we ever knew him.
PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About 'The Joe We Know'
Can one use sport to teach the core values in life? Can one use sport to blend physical toughness, mental toughness, and poise that will produce exceptional young men on the field of play, yet more importantly, in the journey of life? Can one be a focused student and a positive contributor to a championship caliber team at the same time? Can the personal accountability necessary to play a team sport be woven into positive daily habits that boys-turned-men use for a lifetime in their relationships, careers, marriages, churches, businesses, and communities? What a Grand Experiment!
The experiment is a platform for young men to build productive lives. It sets limits and boundaries. Within the boundaries, the attributes of respect, honesty, justice, hope, loyalty, courage, and love are taught, lived, and coached both on and off the field. In return, the students go forward to live by example the lessons of The Grand Experiment.
Six decades since inception, Men of The Grand Experiment participated in the filming of "The Joe We Know". Men, known and unknown, came together to share how Coach Paterno, his coaching staff, the Program, and college life at Penn State affected their lives. These experiences have produced a group of men who work to live all that is good in "Black Shoes, Basics Blues, No Names on the Jerseys."
For details about the film screening, visit www.thejoeweknow.eventbrite.com.