Joe Paterno passed away this morning at the age of 85. I’m not really good with words (especially in serious situations) and I don’t think I can explain to outsiders how badly this hurts, but lots of friends have been asking about it so I guess I’ll try. Unless you’re a part of the family, you just can’t imagine what’s it’s been like these past few months. Penn State is my second family; State College will always be my second home. This morning, my Penn State dad died and, as I know from losing my own father five years ago, our family will never be the same.
Someone else said to me that in many ways, Joe Paterno didn’t die from cancer- he died from a broken heart. His heart was broken for the victims of this scandal- the health and well fair of children were always a priority for Joe and his wife Sue. His heart was broken over the tarnished image of our school- nobody valued education more than this man (any doubters, take a look at the library before and after the Paterno expansion or the $100k donation he made AFTER being fired). It was always about more than football, anyone that could find State College on a map prior to November 2011 knows that all of Joe’s biggest lessons in life took place off the field.
As much as anyone can “deserve” anything in life, Joe Paterno didn’t deserve to have things end this way. He didn’t deserve to be treated by the Board of Trustees that way. (A phone call and ten words after 60+ years of service? You’ve got to be kidding me) He certainly didn’t deserve to be hounded by the media the way he was, used as a poster child for the horrific actions of a former co-worker (who he always hated incidentally), a name to use in getting a bigger headline (screw you ESPN. Seriously- GFY). And a family should never have to respond to false reports on their loved one’s passing the way the Paterno family had to deal with these past 24 hours. I can’t imagine dealing with a public relations mess while my father slowly passes in a hospital bed.
There are probably lots of people reading this (well, I wouldn’t say “lots” of people- it’s just our stupid blog, but you know what I mean) who disagree with me. People who don’t get why or how someone can be sad over this. For those of you who don’t understand, for those who only started paying attention to Joe when the Sandusky scandal broke, you won’t get it. You will judge all of us who are mourning Joe. You won’t understand how we could be so upset over this loss, how we could care about a football coach we didn’t know personally, how we could “forget about the victims”. Well, that’s ok- it’s your opinion based on your own perspective. I’d ask that you try to remember that this was an old man; a loving husband, father and grandfather- you are allowed your thoughts and anger over what you believed he should have done in life, but please speak compassionately out of respect for his loved ones. For me, I don’t understand how you could condemn a man for another’s actions. I don’t understand how people can discredit a hero without knowing all the facts. I don’t understand how media pressure could make the board terminate a legacy with a 30 second phone call. I don’t understand NOT mourning a man who gave so much more to others than he ever took. I’m well aware that Joe Pa was far from perfect, I agreed when he rightfully stepped down as the scandal broke, but he was truly one of a kind and I’m honored that I got to be a part of his family.
I never forget about the victims of the Sandusky scandal. I can’t imagine what their lives have been like and how terrible the years to come will be as this all plays out. But today isn’t about football and it certainly isn’t about Jerry Sandusky. Today we lost a leader, we lost a hero, and the world is a sadder place without Joe Paterno. May he rest in peace now that he is out of his pain and suffering. My thoughts and prayers are with the Paterno & Penn State family.
If you feel so inclined, please consider making a donation to THON as the Paterno family has asked. This is what Penn State and Joe Paterno are all about- For The Kids!!!