The mayor of Grambling, LA has petitioned the NCAA to vacate some of Joe Paterno’s wins as coach of Penn State. Paterno is one win better than Grambling State University’s coaching icon Eddie Robinson on the all time Division I wins list, 409 to 408. Like most people, the Grambling mayor believes that all that can be taken from Paterno’s legacy wouldn’t be enough to compensate for his protection of a child rapist.
There is a special kind of infamy reserved for Joe Paterno, who died just weeks after passing Robinson for the title of greatest winner in football history. No one knew then that he would die in scandal and be memorialized in rage and heartbreak months later. It’s understandable why the City of Grambling would want wins to come crumbling down along with the statue outside of the PSU stadium and the comfort of everyone associated with Penn State University.
But it’s not what Eddie Robinson would want, and it’s not something that will make Paterno more tolerable as a sports figure or Robinson himself more of a hero.
Fans and supporters make sweeping generalizations about the greatness of a person based upon their coaching or playing ability. That’s fool’s gold for the most part, but in the case of Robinson, the prevailing lore is that he was exponentially a better man and humanitarian than he was a coach.
And because of that, it would be hard to picture Coach Rob accepting an amended record for most wins all-time. His on-the-field legend was built upon his ability to line up 11 guys on either side of the ball to whip the opponent for 60 minutes. What former player or student attracted to GSU’s campus because of its football success could sincerely accept a record handed to a man who earned every victory, defeat and lesson he ever received?
Penn State should get the death penalty, a two-year ban at minimum. Fans, leadership and boosters who keep talking about everything else but Paterno’s calculated hiding of sexual assault on children should take the time to consider that there is more to life than tradition, symbolism and moving on. That’s a generous opportunity for a school that lied and hid its way into the greatest collegiate scandal in American history.
Paterno and Robinson scaled the mountain of college football success and shared the precipice of how to work and live in the sport with character, integrity and purpose. They both made good men into great fathers, husbands and community leaders. But Coach Rob now stands alone as college football’s greatest human being.
And we’ll gladly take that over 409 wins any day.