I am normally not a proponent of the NCAAvacating wins as a means of punishing a football program because it seems like a senseless sanction; the games, after all, have already been played, and the score was settled on the field.
Yet of all the penalties handed down to Penn State University‘s football program today by the NCAA, I think it was actually the most appropriate and fitting punishment in this case. I like it because it places the blame squarely on one of the men, Joe Paterno, who was directly responsible for the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky‘s crimes.
According to the NCAA, it’s now as if the period from 1998 to the present has never existed for Penn State football. I admittedly hate that former Nittany Lion players have to see their hard-fought victories erased from the record books, but at the same time, Joe Paterno’s most certainly deserved to be. After the sanctions, his name no longer tops the list of the all-time winningest coaches in college football history, and that, I feel, is justice.
However, with the erasing of Penn State’s victories from 1998 to the present, there is one key moment that must never be forgotten–one player who must always be remembered.
That player is former Nittany Lion, Adam Taliaferro.
In 2000, true freshman Taliaferro was playing in just the fifth game of his collegiate career. While making a tackle on an Ohio Staterunning back, Taliaferro suffered a horrific injury which left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Eight months later, after surgery and extensive rehab, Taliaferro miraculously learned to walk again.
Then, as Penn State took the field in their first game of the 2001 season, Taliaferro himself ran onto the field, leading his teammates in what is one of the greatest and most inspirational moments in college football in my memory.
Today, when word of the sanctions were handed down, Taliaferro sent the following statement on Twitter, and it’s nearly heartbreaking. He wrote:
NCAA says games didn’t exist. I got the metal plate in my neck to prove it did. I almost died playing 4 PSU. Punishment or healing?!? #WeAre [Penn State]
I have never met Taliaferro, but if I were ever to have the honor, I would tell him that no one, not Penn State officials nor coaches, not the NCAA, but no one will ever be able to erase him from college football.
Today he is a lawyer, and he runs his own foundation which he created to help athletes who have suffered head and spinal injuries. He is also a motivational speaker who shares his story with people all over the country.
Yes, in the midst of all the turmoil and all the people who have been affected by the decisions of a mere few, Adam Taliaferro’s story of inspiration and perseverance is one that must always be remembered.