In what will undoubtedly become bigger news in the sports world, legendary former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno has passed away at the age of 85 with family at his side, according to USA Today. The end comes as an expected conclusion on the heels of the ugliest scandal college football, probably sports in general, has ever seen headlined by Jerry Sandusky’s alleged child sex abuse ring. Per the report, JoePa’s wife, Sue, summoned those closest to him to say their final goodbyes at the coach’s request. Paterno, who had been dealing with the effects of radiation and chemotherapy, was hospitalized since January 13 fighting lung cancer.
From clinching his 409th career victory against Illinois in last second fashion, to being fired 10 days later following the scandal becoming news to his very public and excruciating final days, Paterno’s life and death will one day intersect with the New York Times Bestseller list. Yet, the questions and impact surrounding his imminent passing will loom as black eye over the entire sport. Did Penn State make the right decision by firing him? Could they have gone about it differently? How much blame did Paterno fairly receive? What’s his real legacy? The wins or the children who were abused under his reign, whether he was aware or not? And does Jerry Sandusky become the most despised man in sports history? Not only is the label of “serial child rapist” bad enough*, he’ll now go down as the guy who killed the winningest coach in college football history.
There is no precedent for this. JoePa’s fall from grace is unique only to his own, but was something Brent Musburger spoke candidly on in 2008 while a guest on The Dan Patrick Show.
“This is a tough one for me because I have to say up front that JoePa is a dear friend of mine…I’ll tell your listeners the truth as to why he still does it. He is fearful — and he looks back at Bear Bryant as the example — he is fearful that he would not be with us if he stepped away. He is a man that doesn’t fish, doesn’t play golf…he has no other interest other than his family and football. And he’s just afraid what would happen with the rest of his life if he walks away from it.”
Love is a powerful drug. So powerful that living without it, once your body becomes dependent on the feeling, is impossible to move forward. It happens with the love of another person and, in Joe Paterno’s case, one’s profession. JoePa needed football even more than it so desperately needed him. He died of a broken heart.
* – I mean, seriously, outside of “serial killer” does it get much worse?