Joe Paterno PA Sports Hall of Fame Induction
Accepted By Jay Paterno
October 24, 2015 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
I want to thank the Board and officers of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for tonight. I also want to acknowledge some of the other honorees—Notably Matt Bahr and Chuck Fusina two of the all-time greats in Penn State in football not just as players but also as people as well. My father was awfully proud of both of you.
I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention Foge Fazio. Although my Dad competed against your Dad, he had so much respect for him as a person as a coach. I want to mention PJ Carlisemo. When you had your great run to the finals my Dad watched every game and he said “That’s a Scranton boy”. He knew your father, knew him well and every time they showed your Dad, my Dad got a big smile on his face.
I also want to acknowledge what Kristy Kowal said tonight. I have children of my own and I see a lot of young people here. I hope you heard what she said about the struggles starting out. We have a tendency in society now to look at the end product to look at that Olympian or that great Pro and we forget that it starts out with small steps and with an eight year old sitting on the side of the pool saying I don’t want to do this anymore.
But you persevere. You realize greatness is never easy and I want to thank you for that message tonight as well.
It is with great humility that I, on behalf of my Mother Sue Paterno and our entire family stand among you to accept this honor for my father Joseph Vincent Paterno. Although he remained proud to have been born and raised in Brooklyn, New York he came to think of Pennsylvania as home.
They say when the people in your neighborhood- the people who know you best choose to honor you it is the most meaningful—that is certainly the case tonight.
When this was announced a few months ago I was asked by a reporter what it would mean to my father and what it meant for his legacy in light of the events of the last few months of his life.
I need not go into the details—but there has been time to reflect on what this has meant to his family—and when I say family I mean Penn Staters because that was truly his extended family. Understand this; you don’t have to have a degree from Penn State to be a Penn Stater. It is a shared set of ideals, values and commitment to a cause bigger than one’s self.
In November of 2011 the casting of blame fell not just of Joe Paterno but on everyone in that family. The resulting months saw drastic changes in the crafting of a false narrative that hurt all Penn Staters. Whether we want to admit it or not Penn Staters have walked a different path in the eyes of many since those events.
That is changing--- the rays of the truth’s sunlight are returning to Penn State. Tonight’s award is recognition of that.
If he were here tonight Joe Paterno would be the first to credit generations and decades of people who helped make Penn State the example of Success with Honor. He’d credit Coaches, administrators, professors, team doctors, trainers, academic advisers, equipment managers, their families and above all the student-athletes who made the commitment to excel on the field and far more importantly in the classroom and as people.
He would tell you those people gave Joe Paterno so much more than he could ever have given them.
This award is not for an individual, it recognizes a program whose core foundation was the ideal of the Student-Athlete—the pursuit of producing people who were better in all aspects of their lives when they left Penn State than when they arrived.
Even after decades that goal remained---Over his last seven years as head coach Penn State teams compiled the 6th-best record in the country—but most importantly, and what he was most proud of, Penn State was the ONLY program in the country to win over 77% of our games and more importantly graduate over 80% of our football student-athletes.
The enduring foundation of the program was revealed to me once during my coaching career when he and I were walking home from a game. We walked home after every game for seventeen years. He would give me advice and this one time he gave me advice on being a parent—he said “When you become a parent you’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
That carried over to the program.
The happiness of the student-athletes in our program was not because of material goods or attained by permissive attitudes allowing players to do what they wanted. It was about standards, about challenging men-- both coaches and players to understand leadership is about being respected for doing things the right way rather than being liked because you pander to the trends of the times.
No matter their race or creed he looked at each player like they were his own and gave each an equal opportunity and demanded an unyielding standard of success on the field and in the classroom.
That was the bedrock upon which a foundation for Penn State’s program was built for decades. It was a house built on rock, impervious to the floodwaters of changing times and values, and not built on the shifting sands of superficial lip service to excellence.
In that way Success with Honor was created—an enduring legacy built by countless people that will ultimately outlast the temporary challenges of a false narrative.
There are countless examples in history and in college football where re-writing history and denying traditions and obscuring the truth have failed.
Almost 3 ½ years ago the Penn State administration chose to tear down a statue of Joe Paterno. I did not watch it. In fact I didn’t really care at the time.
As time has moved I came to learn from Penn Staters and the people of this Commonwealth that while the statue was an image of Joe Paterno it was really a symbol of something they all shared---a decades-long journey of Success With Honor.
Joe Paterno would tell you all the honors of his life were shared honors—shared with people who made it happen on the field, in the classroom and with countless people across the country who embraced what Penn State stood for.
This honor is shared with Penn Staters who did their part to support those values and stay well within not only established NCAA rules but also the ethics of fair play, sportsmanship and to carry ourselves with class.
Together we built a shining city on a hill---a model for how big-time college football could attain an honorable excellence in competition and in life.
One reporter commented to me that since the events of November 2011 this was among the first major public recognitions of Joe Paterno. That is true—and it is most fitting that it is here in Pennsylvania. For over six decades this was his neighborhood, this was his home and the people here were the ones who knew him best.
It only makes sense that those nearest and dearest to him would be the first to recognize a life that was so broad and so big—but a life made possible by the same people who honor him tonight.
One day that bronze image may indeed come back and if it does keep in mind that like this honor tonight it is not simply representative of one man—it honors ALL who were on that journey with him together.
Thank you very much.