The Legacy of Joe Paterno

You’ve seen it in the news. Joe Paterno, 85, died this past Sunday from lung cancer. My prayers are with his family, friends and fans. It’s likely an understatement to suggest this year has been a difficult one for the Paterno family. The way the news reads says it all.

From Reuters…
“Penn State students and supporters laid flowers and lit candles on Monday as they mourned the death of Joe Paterno, who won more games than any other U.S. major college football coach but saw his legacy tarnished by a child sexual abuse scandal at the school.”

Fox News…
“Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died on Sunday, his family announced, after a two-month battle with lung cancer that was diagnosed near the end of the playing season, just as Paterno was fired as head coach of a team he had served 61 years.”

From CNN…
“What do you do when a wonderful man who made a terrible mistake dies?” CNN contributor and sportswriter LZ Granderson doesn’t know. His article on CNN.com is getting a lot of buzz though, as he walks users through his conflicted emotions and explains the sentiments of those who fall in the middle.”

From ESPN…
“There is, obviously, nothing inherently surprising about Paterno’s death: He was an 85-year-old man with cancer in his lungs who had just endured the worst emotional shock of his lifetime. The Sandusky charges (and Paterno’s firing in the midst of the university’s reaction to them) were included in the first paragraph of his New York Times obituary…”

Triumph and tragedy, this is the story of Joe Paterno. I’m reminded of a quote from a movie, The Dark Knight, “You’ll either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” I don’t believe there’s absolute truth in this quote, however it seems to have some application to this situation. But this was no movie. It was the life of one of the most respected men in college football history whose legacy reads differently today than if it had been written even just a year ago.

It makes me wonder about your legacy. How would you like to be remembered for the worst mistake you ever made?

Marc Antony said it best in Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” A legacy is a fragile thing.

There’s a woman in Scripture. We don’t know her name. All history records is that she was caught in adultery, brought before Jesus and the religious leaders of the day and publicly shamed. The intent of the crowd was more than shame. The law of the land declared adultery a capital crime punishable by death. We know the outcome. Jesus deals gently with her as he confronts the blood thirsty crowd. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Humbled, the crowd begins to walk away. Yet the legacy lives on. Forever this story will be known as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery”. I’ll ask again, how would you like to be remembered for the worst mistake you ever made?

Your legacy takes years to build and only one bad decision to tear down. You could say this about a lot of things.

  • Your marriage – years to build, one bad decision to tear down.
  • Your career
  • Your relationships with family, friends, coworkers, employees or boss.

How can we possibly get it right?

What if that’s the wrong question? What if the central focus of our effort isn’t the legacy we create, but the story we’re in? Life’s not a movie. You’re not the handsome hero or the evil villain. You are, however, a chapter in the story. The question of your legacy isn’t simply about what you got right. It’s about the story your life tells.

The headline may be, “Woman Caught in Adultery”. But the story is so much more than that. The story is the gentle and loving way Jesus forgives, silences the critics and restores a woman in the eyes of God and man.

The obituary may read, “Joe Paterno, the coach who won more games in U.S. college football than any other coach but saw his legacy tarnished…” But that’s not the story. History is still being written on this one. That may be the title, but it won’t be the story.

Today, if you’re making wise decisions, taking bold action, following God and doing the right thing – keep up the good work. Don’t risk the distraction of temptation or discouragement of the critics.

If, however, you’ve stumbled or fallen, if you’ve wandered down a path you never expected, don’t give up. Forgiveness is available. Your choices may write the title, but they don’t have to write the story.


2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”

3 replies
  1. Tommie
    Tommie says:

    Very well stated Chad. By His powerful Grace our life story will reflect Him… Thank you for helping me see more clearly today… Your a blessing and I’m glad your writing! How’s your book coming along? I hope your writing one;)

  2. Chad Balthrop
    Chad Balthrop says:

    Hey Tommie & Michael,

    Thanks for the comments. His grace is enough to allow our story to reflect Him.

    Tommie – I have been working on a book. The working title is ‘Defying Gravity’ – it’s about those things in life that pull us and push us around and how to keep those things in balance. Satisfaction isn’t about getting what we want it’s about being who were designed to be. Not sure when it will be finished, but I’m working toward it…thanks for the encouragement.

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