Paterno’s is the latest tarnished sports legacy

The Big Ten on Monday removed Joe Paterno’s name from the football championship trophy that will be handed out after the conference’s inaugural football title game. It’s just the latest in the sudden and precipitous fall of a once-legendary figure, whose name is now badly tarnished, if not permanently ruined.

Some 10 years, 20 years from now, what will people think of Joe Paterno? Probably not the same way he was thought of two weeks ago: A football icon who has done everything the right way, never incurring even a sniff from the NCAA and has sent countless young men into professional football and the world at large as upstanding citizens. Now, and perhaps forever, Paterno would be thought of as someone who at the very least was complicit in enabling a pedophile.

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Slideshow: Top 10 tarnished legacies

When Woody Hayes struck Clemson’s Charlie Bauman at the Gator Bowl in 1978 and got fired shortly afterward, his name was briefly tarnished. But many years later, it’s not the first thing people think of Hayes, who remains an icon, if flawed. Conversely, despite all his success on the football field and in the television and movie business, O.J. Simpson is now always remembered more for the double murder for which he was not convicted.

It takes years to build a legacy, sometimes decades, but all it requires is one single event or a series of events that comes to the surface to ruin everything.

Most of the time, it’s trouble with the law. Simpson’s might be the most extreme case, with loss of human lives involved. There are other, almost as heinous and felonious. Mike Tyson was imprisoned for rape at the height of his boxing career. Though the merits of his conviction are continuing to be debated, there’s little question that his career, as well as his reputation, were permanently damaged by that case.

O.J. Simpson grimaces as he tries on one of the leather gloves prosecutors said he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered, during the Simpson double-murder trial in Los Angeles in 1995.
(AP)

Others destroy their legacy by running afoul of rules established by their respective sports, the kinds of rules considered sacrosanct. Both Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose were banned for life from baseball for betting on games. Rose is baseball’s all-time hits leader. Jackson was in his prime as one of the greatest players of his generation. Neither will ever be enshrined in Cooperstown.

And it’s looking bleak for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire as well – the best player, pitcher and home run hitter of their own generation. By being implicated in baseball’s decade-long steroids scandal, they are the poster children and scapegoat for baseball’s inexorable decline. Their numbers and records are now forever attached with asterisks, if not in the actual books then in the minds of baseball fans.

The criteria for our list are simple: One has to have a considerable legacy in order to have it torn down. What we have are one-time towering figures who were later discredited so thoroughly by events that they were no longer heroes, but villains. These are our top tarnished legacies:

The list:

5. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens – steroids
4. Pete Rose – gambling
3. Joe Paterno – Sandusky child molestation scandal
2. Mike Tyson – rape conviction
1. O.J. Simpson – double murder charge
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Updated Monday, Nov 14, 2011