Collin Hansen

When Good Isn’t Good Enough

If former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died the evening of October 22, when I saw him pull away in a bus from Northwestern after defeating the Wildcats, he would have been celebrated as a national hero. One week later he coached his final game, a home victory against Illinois, giving him a record 409 wins for his distinguished career. A few short days later, the long-tenured and widely revered coach lost his job in perhaps the sorriest scandal in the history of college athletics. We’ve grown accustomed to learning that amateur college athletes shaved points or solicited pay for play. But the allegations that a longtime Paterno assistant sexually abused young boys roiled even the hardest sports scribes. Following the 85-year-old Paterno’s death due to lung cancer on Sunday, fans have struggled to make sense of his mixed legacy. In the case of Paterno, it turns out good isn’t good enough in the court of public opinion.

No one can dispute that Paterno did a lot of good in his long, illustrious life, probably a lot more good than you and I can boast. He coached players on how to maul each other on a field of grass, yes, but he also molded generations of young boys of 18 into model men of 22. Those disciples have turned out in droves this week to honor their beloved mentor. Paterno has been lionized for coaching winning teams that also succeeded in the classroom. Sure, he may have covered for some players who deviated from this culture, but his example contrasted with so many other coaches and schools who willingly sacrificed integrity for victory. Not content merely to win football games, Paterno also contributed to Penn State’s improving academic reputation. Indeed, the library bears his name, due to a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign he and his wife spearheaded. They also contributed at least $1 million to build an interfaith student center.

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Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. You can follow him on Twitter.