JoePa, The Vest and Lance Armstrong

AndyVance's picture
October 26, 2012 at 8:55p

As with his statue, the Paterno legacy remains but a shadow on the wall.Lydell Ross really got me thinking this week.

Actually, that's not entirely true... Lance Armstrong got me thinking this week, and then Lydell Ross really got me thinking.

It all started as I was pondering the "legacy" of the now forever tainted cycling superstar. When the latest round of accusations, allegations and admissions in the Armstrong doping scandal crept up a couple of weeks ago, and it became apparent that this time the dirt would actually stick, I started thinking about how the situation would affect his charitable work through the Lance Armstrong Foundation - or what many think of simply as the LIVESTRONG Foundation.

Admittedly, I have a LIVESTRONG cover on my iPhone and have been known to wear the ubiquitous yellow wristband. My warm and fuzzy feelings about the foundation did not start with cancer, as has been the case with many of the Foundation's fans, but with weight loss. A few years ago I started on a quest to improve my health and body composition, and the resources at were a big part of my success. While those resources are now only an "official partner" of the foundation, the connection between the principles of the LiveStrong movement are more than brand-deep.

"In 1996, as my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer," Armstrong wrote in announcing his resignation last week as chair of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. "It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors. This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart...Therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."

I'll not recapitulate the many positive things Armstrong and his Foundation have accomplished. Suffice it to say, they are numerous.

What in the name of St. Paul Brown does a cyclist hopped up on goofballs have to do with Lydell Ross and Ohio State football? you're likely pondering... Earlier this week when reading what Ross has been up to in the years since his standout years with the Buckeyes, I was struck by Ross' comments about Coach Tressel - it was clear in the piece that he holds Coach in the highest regard despite the tumultuous circumstances surrounding his departure as the team's commander-in-chief.

"In Tressel we trust" was something many of us believed devoutly for a decade of our lives... for many of us, the words are more than a slogan. Setting aside the Xs and Os, James Patrick Tressel brought something highly intangible to The Ohio State University. Call it respect, call it integrity - please, spare for a moment the screams of "hypocrite" - call it what you will, but from the time he arrived on campus there was a clear sense of what Ohio State football was all about, and that there was more to the program than simply winning rings.

In a sense, what befell Coach Tressel makes sense... Right or (clearly) wrong, his internal compass said trying to keep those young men out of some potentially very deep trouble was bigger than any potential harm that might land on his own shoulders.

I'll not write more about the Tressel situation, because others have done a better job of pulling it apart piece by bitter piece than will I - my point is simply that, as with Lance Armstrong, the man and the good he accomplished exists in a seemingly separate dimension from the deeds that ultimately become his undoing.

Tomorrow's romp in Happy Valley made the obvious connection to my otherwise disparate thoughts on these men and their "legacies." Joe Paterno was, depending on who you ask, either a Saint or the Devil himself. Last week I read one of the most interesting and insightful pieces on the Paterno legacy likely to be written, and it completely changed the way I look at what has happened at Penn State in the wake of the reprehensible actions of Jerry Sandusky.

Michael Bérubé has just become the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature at Pennsylvania State University, where he is also director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. He is president of the Modern Language Association. Up until a short time ago, he was the Paterno Family Professor in Literature at Penn State, an endowed Chair he resigned Aug. 20, a decision with which he struggled for some six weeks.

In a perfect world, there would be no child rapists; in a world slightly better than the one I inhabit, legal authorities would snap into action when a licensed psychologist identifies someone as a child rapist; and in the world I wish I inhabited, everyone with any knowledge of the 2001 incident would have made sure that Jerry Sandusky never touched another boy, and Joe Paterno himself would have taken the lead. It is inconceivable to me that the man who loved the Aeneid because he considered it the great epic of honor and duty would not have done more when apprised of Sandusky's behavior than report it up the chain of command.


And now what remains? Paterno's famous statue has been removed from outside the stadium, and the student encampment, Paternoville, has been renamed Nittanyville. Brown University has taken his name off an athletics award (an alumnus, he remains in Brown's Hall of Fame), and Nike has taken his name off its child-care center. On Penn State's campus, although his name remains on the library he loved and supported so generously (as well it should), these days you can't even buy a sandwich at the campus sub shop that once called itself Joegie's. Joe's likeness has been scraped from the front window, and the shop has been blandly rechristened Hub Subs. We are still stumbling, still trying to figure out how to proceed: Erasing the name seems too easy a fix, a simple scrubbing and denial, and yet keeping it seems to say that everything is just fine and nothing has changed in Happy Valley. I have made my decision, but the question of how to remember Joe Paterno is far from settled.

But if I am not happy about resigning the Paterno chair, it is because I am not happy about what has happened here in the valley. I am not happy that we were the site of a horrible child-rape scandal extending over many years, perpetrated by a former defensive coordinator for the football team, and enabled by a bungled police investigation and university leaders who were either grossly negligent, actively conspiring in crime, or (the most benevolent possible reading) both clueless and incurious about who and what they were dealing with.


As the world (even unto Antarctica) now knows, one of Gary Schultz's 1998 notes reads: "Is this the opening of Pandora's box?" and "Other children?" Yes, Mr. Schultz, there were other children. Yes, it was Pandora's box. We all wish you had followed up on those questions, and that taking such a step somehow would have prevented Sandusky from gaining access to any more young boys. It's their lives that should have been everyone's first concern. Surely, in that light, the fate of the Paterno chair recedes into unimportance.

Indeed - and the same can be said for the fate of the Penn State football program, I am sure. And yet tomorrow when our Eleven Warriors brave and strong meet on the field of athletic battle 11 young men wearing the blue and white of the Nittany Lions, both teams will be playing under the shadows of their fallen-hero former coaches.

For Penn State the situation is almost mind-numbingly different from that of Ohio State, and yet the question remains: how do we remember these once - and perhaps still - great men? Should we not separate the man from the myth, the legend and the sordid?

Jim Tressel was run out of town on a rail for doing something that, in some ways, didn't "feel" wrong. Joe Paterno's statue, having stood watch on his school's campus for more than two decades, was ripped down as though he were the butcher of Baghdad. As though it were not enough that he quite literally died when he was forced out of an institution that was in many respects of his own creation, and that certainly created the legend that was him... and the question of what legacy he left behind may not be settled for decades, if at all.

What happened to Sandusky's victims is unconscionable, and were he gone from this veil of tears instead of Paterno, likely few would mourn his passing. In reading Bérubé's account of Paterno's off the field legacy, I find it difficult to complete erase those decades despite a disappointment that he apparently did little to end Sandusky's abuses.

When the players take the field tomorrow, all we'll be screaming about are good plays and bad, cheering our team to victory or wallowing in their defeat.

For tonight, however, I'm stuck pondering the much bigger picture, of how to feel about the late, great, Joe Paterno. Some things are bigger than football.

Comments Show All Comments

Maestro's picture

Well written.  Thanks for sharing.

vacuuming sucks

bodast67's picture

Nice piece and observations Andyvance. I had to look twice to see if I was reading a staff piece.




     " I hope when I die, I die laughing"...                

ATXbucknut's picture

Very few people are wholey bad or wholey good.  We have the capacity to do/be both bad and good. Thus is the duality of man.
I don't think anyone should feel guilty about having positive feelings toward any of the individuals you cite above. They have certainly done a lot of good.  And, yes, some bad, as well.

ohiowhitesnake's picture

Great read. 

I finally got a set of Gold Pants!

NoVA Buckeye's picture

This. So much this. Excuse me, my heart just exploded from all the touching this piece did to it. Thank you. What an amazing read.

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

Poison nuts's picture

Those are some very nice words you put together Andyvance. Beautiful really. Good on you! Not to disregard your piece, as it really is a great work, but I know exactly how I feel about Joe Paterno: know what, I just erased three paragraphs of stuff that's been said often enough about the whole situation - no need to do it all again. 
Suffice to say, I know exactly how I feel about Joe Paterno & although we may not see this thing the same way - thanks for your thoughtful words.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Buckeye2005's picture

Great read!  Although I think all 3, although alike, are very different of course, this is very thought provoking. 

D. Anthony's picture

History, fairly or unfairly, tends to shine much more light on the worst of a mans deeds rather any of the good. Lance made his fortune off knowingly cheating and probably lived with himself a little easier buy giving so much time and money to charities in a very public manner. He's the biggest cheater of the 3. JoePa did a whole lot of good for decades and very privately gave back BUT his errors/crimes are by far are the most serious and tragic based on the very innocent getting their lives ripped away. Tressel lied and covered up very minor offenses in the big scheme but was put under way too big of a national microscope simply because of his image, and image he went out of his way to portray and cultivate. Misbehavior conducted by a politician or priest is always going to get way more attention and a more harsh reaction, and it probably should. Tressel was almost half politician and half priest-like in many peoples view.

D. Anthony

AndyVance's picture

REALLY important point that I didn't touch on in the piece, and I'm glad you brought it up... The punishment meted out to "Senator" Tressel felt, at least in our little sphere of fandom, so disproportionate to the "crimes" committed. Well said, D.

BrewstersMillions's picture

"I find it difficult to complete erase those decades despite a disappointment that he apparently did little to end Sandusky's abuses."
That's certainly where we part ways. I've been guilty of reacting to this entire scenario with a bit more zeal than some of my 11W counterparts so I'll save the preachy for another time. I will say this-I can't ever look at anything Paterno did prior to his death without the stain of the Sandusky scandal clouding my vision. I would really be interested to see how many times Jerry Sandusky was around the Penn State Football program after the Mike McQueery reported incident took place. That's nearly 10 years from witnessing to arrest and I have to assume the guy was around the school and around kids-as many times as that incident occurred and Joe saw him, THATS how many mistakes the man made in his life. This isn't as simple as "Well he did a lot of good but made a terrible mistake". If the number of times Jerry was seen by Paterno with a kid numbers in the tens, or hundreds or worse-thousdands, that's exactly how many mistakes Paterno made. It doesn't matter to me what he did. It's what he didn't do for which he should always and rightfully be remembered. There's no need to question it for me. Sexual assault doesn't just wreck the lives of the victims-it wrecks the lives of their circle of friends and family too. The effects of Joe and Company's willingness to do nothing are far, FAR reaching and quite frankly his misdeeds outweigh his good deeds by a lot as far as I'm concerned.

AndyVance's picture

That's certainly a valid perspective... On one hand, the situation is black and white, and Paterno should have moved heaven and earth to expunge Sandusky from any place where he could continue to abuse young men. 
On the other hand, I'm cynical enough to believe that it is impossible for us to know everything that happened, particularly that we can't know what Joe was thinking, or to know his motives for acting (or not acting, as the case me be) as he did.
We can all agree that what happened is tragic, and the blame is spread far and wide.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Again that's where we have to find seperate ground. The facts are there. And worse, the facts support the logical inferences that Joe's inaction dealt with cash grabs provided by the tax cuts the 2nd Mile provided. The Grand Jury testimony that Joe proves himself to be a liar is all I need.
Fact is, facts are there. We DO know all we need to know. This issue is THAT cut and dry for me.

Alpo's picture

Good piece, thanks for writing it

klfeck's picture

My .02
Lance did a lot of great non athletic things. I hope he will be remembered for those and not for cheating in a sport where cheating is the norm.
Tressel did so many great things for the young men under his supervision and for the state of Ohio. His fall from grace was precipitated by not telling the truth about actions that many feel should not be against NCAA rules anyway. I find it very hard to believe that a majority of coaches in the NCAA don't overlook these types of infractions on a regular basis. Only OSU haters will remember Tressel as anything other than a very good man.
Paterno mad the type of bad decision that should haunt a man for the rest of their lives and should follow them to judgement day should there be one. I used to have great admiration for the man I thought Paterno to be. For those who think that Tressel cheated by violating some benign NCAA rule in order to keep a competitive advantage, do they also agree that Paterno traded the lives of children for wins? To me it's like the difference between playing cops and robbers as a kid and engaging in a real gunfight in Afganistan. The contrast is astounding.



Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

Boom777's picture

I thought this was leading to a bar joke when I saw it...too much to read right now.

Wherever you are, there you be!

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

All three men did wonderful things for many people in different ways.  The big difference between Paterno and Tressel/Armstrong were the nature of their actions.  Jim Tressel gained a competitive advantage by playing several players that were ineligible because they hadn't been immediately reported to the NCAA for their rules violations.  Lance Armstrong gained a competitive advantage by doping.  The advantage Armstrong gained is probably exaggerated because let's face it, who in the hell in that sport isn't doping?  Is anyone that has won the Tour de France over the past 10-15 years still officially the winner of their particular Tour? 
Tressel and Armstrong made mistakes related specifically to competition - causing them to have an advantage on the field/track.  Paterno's mistakes go beyond the game.  His failure to do more to stop Sandusky from hurting more children - there's no getting past that.  That's more lives harmed.  Someone's life isn't going to be harmed just because OSU loses a game or Lance Armstrong doesn't win the Tour de France this year. 
That's not to say that Joe Paterno didn't do great things outside of this mess.  He did.  That could be part of why that fanbase continued to defend Paterno when everyone else wanted to tear him down.

Class of 2010.

BuckeyeinAnnArbor's picture

Tressel cheated to try to win an extra game. Joe Paterno destroyed lives. 

Norwalk's picture

I expect that JT will coach again in a few years and have the chance to reestablish his reputation.  He will never be viewed as the Jesus like figure many Ohio State fans thought he was but when he retires on his own terms my guess is that he will be well reguarded by most football fans and have a prominent and positive place in Ohio State lore.  Lance will never have the chance to race at a world class level again and his sport will go back to being irrelevant.   Jo Pa will continue to be loved by the blind faithful in Happy Valley and looked at with disgust by the rest of the world.

740's picture

while the rest of the cycling world was using the same chemicals and the same bicycles, armstrong triumphed after defeating a life-threatening illness and overcoming the loss of 50% of his testosterone- generators. 
in cycling and track and field, everybody is playing on an even playing field; the groundskeepers are pharmacists.
lance is still a hero, tressel is still a hell of a football coach and human being, and joe paterno is an enigma: only a handful of people will ever know his true essence, whatever it may have been.

chitown buckeye's picture

Very good read. Really makes you think about things and put into perspective your own wrong doings and how would you like your legacy to be remembered. Obviously most of us arent in the publics eye and have time to redeem ourselves so to speak. I think many rush to judgement on 99% of the time when it comes to any public figure.
Its tough to say how many will be remembered. Im sure as in Paterno and Tressel there fan bases will remmber them better then the general public will. I would say the same for Lance as well. Anyone who has been impacted by his livestrong movement will find it in them to forgive him. There are many people out there that will hate all three and never look passed the bad they did to see any of the good.
I often try to look back and ask myself "if you knew then what you knew now". Example- If Lance played by the rules (even though everyone around him at the time were not) and he never won a tour, livestrong was never created would he do it. Or would he still choose the path he went down- cheat, win, able to create/raise money for a huge foundation that has served to help so many. I actually think the cancer world is a better place because Lance cheated. When you ask that question of the other two I think they would have more regrets in there answer.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

AndyVance's picture

Well said, my Chitown friend. Well said.

ArTbkward's picture

A very, very good point.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

OhioKris's picture

either you die the hero or live long enough to become the villian. 

AndyVance's picture

LOVE this quote. From The Dark Knight, right?

45has2's picture

The aspect of Tress that I respect the most is when he recruited and signed a prospect, that kid was then treated as his own. Forever. He never gave up on any player or threw any of them under the bus even if they did him(MO). I believe he did what he did because he felt he was protecting "his kids" and that was that. Because of that trait, look at the loyalty his former players have for him. What was one of his famous sayings? Before the players care about what you know, they want to know you care. Rock on, Vest.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes