Joe Paterno up for highest U.S. honor

Joe Paterno has been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a U.S. citizen can receive.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) nominated the 83-year-old Penn State head coach in a letter to President Barack Obama that included signatures from 17 other members of Congress.

In the letter, Thompson writes, "Rarely has the award been made to someone who has personified sportsmanship on the field of play and academic achievement in the classroom. It is our hope, that this year the Medal of Freedom does just that by honoring Joe Paterno for his contribution to the coaching of football, his commitment to the academic integrity of the young men under his charge, and his deep dedication to education in general."

Paterno is entering his 45th year as Penn State's coach. He holds the Division I record for most coaching victories with 394 and this fall become just the third coach in NCAA history to reach 400 wins.

Paterno and his wife also have contributed more than $4 million to Penn State as part of their extensive work with the university and the surrounding community.

Created in 1945 by President Harry Truman, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has been awarded to sports figures such as Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and former Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.