Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno has been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States by U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA, 5th), who sent President Barack Obama a letter with 17 additional signatures asking that Paterno be rewarded for his efforts serving his team, school and community.
Does Joe deserve it?
This Turkey thinks so. He has touched the lives of countless thousands of young men in a myriad ways, inspiring them to great heights on the field and in the classroom while guiding them in their maturation as responsible and productive adults. He has donated millions of dollars of his own money to bolster the Penn State library, while raising literally billions in support for the Penn State endowment and the athletic program through the years.
But will he get it?
This Turkey thinks not. It would be nice to think that President Obama would transcend politics to do the right thing, but in this case what he’ll probably do is find a good excuse to give the medal to someone else, laying out a very well constructed rationalization that makes the whole thing seem perfectly legitimate. Why would he want to deny Joe? Simple politics. Paterno is a Republican who not only stood in nomination of George H. W. Bush in New Orleans in 1988, but also has publicly expressed his displeasure with the directions of the Obama Administration. He was nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom by a Republican congressman. The Obama White House, although paying lip service to the desire to reach across the aisle, has done little to convince us that this is anything but hypocritical posturing. Beside being of the wrong political persuasion and beside having been nominated by another Republican, Paterno’s selection might alienate voters in swing states like Ohio or Florida, merely because of football rivalries. Obama and crew (Axelrod, Plouffe, et. al.) know how to mind their political P’s and Q’s down to the last iota.
Still, there is hope. Although the nominations for the Presidential Medal of Freedom undoubtedly will be weighed and evaluated politically — because everything Obama does is a political maneuver — there can be some significant political benefit in naming the venerable coach the recipient. That Paterno is a Republican is well known, hence the award could be seen as “reaching across the aisle.” This Turkey is certain that this potential political exploitation will not be overlooked. Furthermore, Joe’s son and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno is an active Obama supporter who campaigned vigorously for him in 2008. Although Pennsylvania typically votes Democrat, the unwritten rules of big-time politics mandate some form of quid pro quo. Finally, and by no means least significant, is that Joe flat out deserves the award, which has been won in the past by two of his contemporaries: Paul “Bear” Bryant and John Wooden.
There are multiple categories and, thus, multiple medals to be awarded in a given year. I cannot think of any reason why Paterno should not receive an award that most recently was given to Billie Jean King (2009, for political reasons that should be obvious to the keen observer). I would like to see him get it while he is still around to bask in its glow, unlike Bryant, who was honored posthumously. Therefore, I am hereby imploring my brother from another mother, my president who pledged to serve me even though I didn’t vote for him, my main man in DC, Barry Obama to do the right thing, not the safe thing or the politically expedient thing: Award Joe Paterno the Presidential Medal of Freedom.