I Killed Joe Paterno

Or at least that’s what the Internet seems to think.

I killed Joe Paterno, according to many of you. Not guilty, Your Honor.  If I am blameworthy of anything, it is prescience. Last time I checked, that was not a crime, no matter how beloved the subject.

On November 15—six days after Penn State’s legendary football coach was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal—I suggested it might be time to start “the Joe Paterno Death Watch.”

“For some men of national stature, particularly those whose level of excellence has endured for decades, their work defines their being,” I wrote. “When that ends, for whatever reason, their bodies give up, sometimes in a matter of weeks.”

The column ended with this thought: “Absent the power and the glory, don’t be surprised if Paterno finally starts acting his age, setting the stage for his final exit.”

Reader reaction was immediate, unleashing a flood of vitriolic email about the  audacity of my coldly predicting the imminent death of JoePa, then 84.  “Shame on you” was the most-used phrase, or at least the most-used that could be spoken in polite company. Some wished for my own death.

Three days later, on November 18, Paterno’s son Scott announced that his father was being treated for lung cancer. Again, in the readers’ court, I was to blame. “Shame on you” repeated as No. 1 on the hit list, with a metaphorical bullet. “Are you happy now?” ran a close second.

On Sunday morning, the Nittany Lion king died at age 85. As expected, the Sandusky case was mentioned in the first paragraph of every obituary, sometimes before Paterno’s status as the winningest major-college football coach in history.

I take no joy in Joe Paterno’s death. That he died so soon after his sudden dismissal gives me no pleasure, either.  I never met the man, but I have boundless respect for his accomplishments and his philosophy.  His downfall was of Macbethian proportions.

In my defense, I was not alone in my initial prediction. I heard from several Penn State alums who said they felt the same way but didn’t want to talk about it for fear of the worst actually happening.

After the fact, some of Paterno’s former opponents went on record about the timing of his firing and his death.

“You can die of heartbreak. I’m sure Joe had some heartbreak, too,” retired Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, 82, told the Associated Press.  Longtime Nebraska coach Tom Osborne attributed “the emotional turmoil of the last few weeks” as a possible a factor in Paterno’s death.

Now that Paterno’s turmoil is over, I will make another prediction–one that will elicit little dissent: Somewhere, in a higher-elevated Happy Valley, Joe Paterno is already pacing the sidelines, waiting for the next play. He is young and he is healthy, and the crowd never stops cheering.

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  • lsp.1803@gmail.com

    Gail,

    I will gratefully let you off the hook. You, and the coaches you quote, are too ignorant to understand a disease state that gives you a life expectancy of 13 weeks. Please drop your false sense of omnipotence and learn what millions of people endure every day.

    lsp

  • newsie123

    I have to disagree with lsp…I’ve seen men in the 50′s fired, laid off, let go… and died a few months later. They were men who loved working in network news. They lost their income, their livelihood, doing the thing they loved most. And they were realitively young. And in reality it’s very very hard for a former network news people to “recreate themselves”–let alone a man who coached for more than 50 years and whose life was intertwined with a university and it’s team. Fifteen years ago did a profile of JoePa…he lived and breathed his job, and losing it all as he was willing to retire, was not just an issue of disease, it was also an issue of heartbreak and loss of will to go on which matters. The fight was gone, no where to go. It was over. I’ve seen the scenario many times.

  • newsie123

    I have to disagree with lsp…I’ve seen men in the 50′s fired, laid off, let go… and died a few months later. They were men who loved working in network news. They lost their income, their livelihood, doing the thing they loved most. And they were relatively young. And in reality it’s very very hard for a former network news people to “recreate themselves”–let alone a man who coached for more than 50 years and whose life was intertwined with a university and it’s team. Fifteen years ago did a profile of JoePa…he lived and breathed his job, and losing it all as he was willing to retire, was not just an issue of disease, it was also an issue of heartbreak and loss of will to go on which matters. The fight was gone, no where to go. It was over. I’ve seen the scenario many times.

  • lsp.1803@gmail.com

    newsie123,

    I work in Oncology research, not news. You guys are still missing the PRIMARY cause of death.

  • notpennstate1
  • newsie123

    Thanks for the link notpennstate1. Nice write up. and to lsp, Yes he died of cancer. But most of us know people with cancer who hang on longer than they should because something is motivating them to, and others who “decide” it’s time to go. It’s commonly seen in hospice. You know this, too, because of your work with cancer patients.