Monday, January 23, 2012
Joe Paterno Dead: Sad is the Only Word
Photo from ABC News
Those who knew him best say he died of a broken heart. In 2010, when asked why he wouldn’t retire, he said he was afraid he might die if he walked away from the work he loved so much. There is only one word to describe the death of Joe Paterno-sad.
What makes the death of Paterno so heartbreaking is the way it all ended. After coaching 46 seasons, becoming the winningest coach in major college football, he was handed a package via a carrier with a phone number. He called the number and was told the trustees at Penn State had decided to fire him. His wife called back to give her thoughts on how they handled her husband’s termination.
The sadness of Paterno’s death is impacted by the bitterness caused by one lapse in judgment. He lived by what he called “Success with Honor” and carried that torch for 46 years. The tarnishing of his character was due to mistakes made by others. It was the mistake of one of his coaches that forced him out. It was the mistakes of those he trusted to investigate allegations of child sex abuse that did him in.
Recently, Paterno admitted he didn’t know what to do. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. It is easy for those standing on the outside of it all to claim they would have contacted the police. Certainly I hope that I would if placed in that situation, but it is possible that I, like Paterno, would have trusted those who know what to do to do the right thing. “I wish I had done more,” he said.
What makes this all so sad is how Penn State handled the last days of Joe Pa’s life. From all accounts, no one from the administration reached out to Paterno after he received his pink slip over the phone. There was no tribute in his honor before he took his last breath. The university he loved so much never thanked him for giving so much back.
And he gave a lot back. He was told over the phone despite contributing over 4 million dollars to Penn State. Yes, he should have contacted the police. There is no doubting that. The sadness in his death is in how the mistakes made by others can tarnish the legacy of one who has given so much.
It’s sad that Jerry Sandusky released a statement. “This is a sad day! Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. Nobody did more for the academic reputation of Penn State than Joe Paterno," Sandusky said in an email through his attorney. "He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession. Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition."
"Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family, and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life."
It’s sad that Sandusky failed to understand that his release of a statement harms the family and reminds us of how his actions led to the tarnishing of Paterno’s reputation. It’s sad that people get punished for failing to police those they trust. It’s sad that all the good one has done is forgotten due to the bad someone else has done.
Those close to him say he died of a broken heart. Given all he stood for, that’s enough to kill a person with a heart like the one he shared.
It’s sad that we get judged not only for what we do, but for what we do related to the people we trust.
Sad is the only word.