Quietly, and without much fanfare, the Penn State athletic department announced Thursday plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno’s first game as head coach at Penn State, a move quickly met with criticism on social media.
The announcement came in a Penn State press release about the football team’s promotions this season. It is the second bulleted point under the Sept. 17 promotions for Penn State’s home game against Temple. One sportswriter, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, found the way in which Penn State shared the news a bit odd.
Penn State announces it will honor Joe Paterno at a game this year. Not exactly shouting it from the mountains. pic.twitter.com/8HxtkxG9D5— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 1, 2016
Penn State said activities would take place during the game to commemorate Paterno’s first game on Sept. 17, 1966, a 15-7 win over Maryland. (Paterno was a Penn State assistant coach from 1950 to 1965 before taking the head coaching job.) University spokesman Jeff Nelson told The Associated Press that Penn State plans to announce specifics of the commemoration to ticket holders during the week of the game but declined further comment on the plans. Athletic director Sandy Barbour declined comment, and Nittany Lions coach James Franklin was not asked about the decision on his weekly radio show Thursday night, ESPN reported.
The backlash was widespread on social media Thursday, including disapproval from two ESPN broadcasters, Rece Davis and Linda Cohn.
Others chimed in with their critical opinions as well.
If Penn State feels the need to honor Joe Paterno then allow me to imitate Joe Paterno and look the other way.— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) September 1, 2016
This is exactly why Penn State's football program should have been shut down by the NCAA or the school. https://t.co/kWBpsVsdrI— Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoyACN) September 1, 2016
The Associated Press also reported:
The Paterno Foundation had already scheduled a private celebration of the 50th anniversary of Paterno’s first game as head coach with a Football Lettermen’s reunion on Sept. 16 at Lubrano Park in State College. Penn State alum and university trustee Anthony Lubrano has been part of a group of Paterno supporters that have been pushing for the school to officially recognize the anniversary.
Paterno was fired in 2011 after his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested for child sexual abuse. Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 charges in June 2012 and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. Sandusky is appealing the verdict.
Paterno died of lung cancer in January 2012. A few months later, Penn State took down a statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium.
Although Paterno was never charged in the scandal, a report surfaced in July after a Philadelphia judge unsealed a series of documents in an insurance coverage case indicating that Penn State officials — including Paterno — knew of Sandusky’s sexual misconduct with minors for decades, with Paterno directly informed of one allegation as far back as 1976.