There is one verse in the Bible that begins with the words “dead flies,” found in the King James translation of Ecclesiastes 10:1: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.” In more contemporary language, the verse states, “As dead flies cause even a bottle of perfume to stink, so a little foolishness spoils great wisdom and honor” (New Living Translation).
The story of Joe Paterno, not just a heralded college football coach but a living icon who helped transform a whole university, provides eloquent testimony to this biblical maxim.
Consider first Coach Paterno’s legacy as of October 29th of this year, as headlines proudly announced, “Joe Paterno passes Robinson as winningest coach in Division I,” meaning that the 84 year-old Paterno had amassed more wins as a coach than any other man in the history of major college football.
He accomplished this extraordinary feat by coaching the same team from 1966 until his sudden dismissal this week for his failure to take sufficient steps to report an alleged pedophile. This amounts to more than 45 straight years of successful coaching, because of which he has already been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. “Without debate,” wrote sports journalist Dejan Kovacevic, “he’ll go down as the most accomplished coach college football has ever known.”
And despite Paterno’s age, his team is currently ranked 12th, meaning that some of the best prospects in the nation were still going to Penn State in order to play for him, and also meaning that he was still able to put a quality team on the field each week.
But that is only a small part of the legacy of the man affectionately called “JoePa.” As noted by ESPN columnist Ivan Maisel, “Joe Paterno devoted his entire career to a belief in the power of athletics, but only when coupled with the power of academics. His will and his enthusiasm provided a public face for the transformation of Pennsylvania State University from a regional agricultural school to one of the most important public universities in the nation.”
Paterno and his wife Sue personally contributed $4 million to different departments and colleges within the university, and he helped raise $13.5 million for the expansion of the main library, after which it was renamed the Paterno Library.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.