Joe Paterno via ABC News YouTube

According to a report from Spotlight PA on Feb. 15, a group of trustees at Penn State University is working privately to rename the football field at the university’s Beaver Stadium after legendary — but also controversial — late head coach Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno

Spotlight PA reported that the trustees met privately twice in January to consider the name change, which may violate state law. As a public university, Pennsylvania requires that governing bodies conduct business in public view, but the trustees at Penn State have reportedly often ignored this law for decades.

But the real furor the report has generated does not pertain to a law most people probably aren’t even familiar with, but the name change itself, given Paterno’s enmeshment in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that ended “JoePa’s” Hall of Fame coaching career.

A group of trustees are pushing to name the football field after Paterno, while board and university officials are hesitant, according to the three sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak openly about the discussions.

The board fired Paterno in 2011 during the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. A statue of Paterno outside the football stadium was removed, and the NCAA vacated more than 100 wins from Paterno’s record. The wins were later restored, and Paterno holds the record for most wins in NCAA football history with 409.

Spotlight PA
One Of The Famous "Whiteouts" at Penn State's Beaver Stadium
One Of The Famous “Whiteouts” at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium (Credit: Screenshot – Wikipedia)Credit: Screenshot – Wikipedia

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Paterno’s Legacy Tarnished By Sandusky Scandal

Paterno was the head coach at Penn State for 45 years. He still holds the record for most wins by an NCAA FBS coach with 409 and holds the record for most years as head coach at a single university. He led Penn State to five undefeated seasons and two national championships in 1982 and 1986. His list of Coach of the Year awards from various organizations is nearly endless.

But when former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested in 2011 on child sexual abuse charges and subsequently convicted on 45 of the 48 charges against him, Paterno found himself caught up in the scandal and his career did not survive it. Even though he was never under criminal investigation himself (and then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said that he was cooperative and reported the incidents he knew of properly), many critics came forward to state that he should have done more to stop the abuse.

Under this pressure, the Penn State trustees fired Paterno (university president Graham Spanier resigned rather than face termination himself). The NCAA subsequently stripped him of more than 100 of his wins, though they restored the wins later. Paterno passed away just more than one year later, in January 2012. A posthumous FBI investigation found more connection between Paterno, Sandusky, and other Penn State staff. The school removed his statue, Nike removed his name from a childcare center, and even Brown University (Paterno’s alma mater) disowned him.

The Statue of Joe Paterno In Front Of Beaver Stadium Before It Was Removed
The Statue of Joe Paterno In Front Of Beaver Stadium Before It Was Removed (Credit: Screenshot – USA Today)Credit: Screenshot – USA Today

Reactions On Social Media Come In Heavy

Needless to say, the reactions to Penn State’s trustees’ discussions came in fast and furious … on both sides of the issue. The X account “Penn State Football” (not an official account of the university, but a prominent account associated with Penn Live) came right out against the idea.

Philadelphia journalist Mike Sielski had a similar reaction.

On the other side of the argument, some argued that Paterno did what he should have done during the scandal and that Penn State should honor his coaching legacy.

While reactions came in from both perspectives, the clear consensus (at least on X) was that this was a very bad idea.

In the end, the university’s administrators and board of trustees will decide whether the school will rename the field for Paterno. But based on the early reaction, including a vague and ambiguous statement from Penn State itself, there’s probably a good reason they wanted to keep these discussions quiet and it is unlikely that they will announce the name change any time in the near future.

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