Rest In Peace: Joseph Paterno

Joe Paterno spent 62 years at Penn State University.

The last few months have been some of the most tumultuous in the history of Penn State University and even more so for their famed head football coach Joe Paterno. There is no real need to recap the events that have surrounded the once clean program in the past few months other than to say that Paterno was dismissed from his duties as head football coach amid reports that he failed to do all he could to stop the actions of Jerry Sandusky while he was involved in illegal sexual activities with young males on Penn State ground.

The decision to fire Paterno during this scandal was one of the most divisive decisions made by Penn State authorities. People either loved the move or hated it vehemently. It divided Penn Staters, college football experts and even casual fans. Amidst all the debate, the famed coach walked away from the school he loved as Penn State football moved on.

Joe Paterno was fired by Penn State in November in connection with the Sandusky scandal.

While Sandusky made news by giving ridiculous interviews and getting arrested and re-arrested, Paterno’s health condition declined. He was diagnosed with what doctors believed was a treatable form of lung cancer in November. Paterno fell some weeks later and suffered a broken pelvis.

Paterno was known for taking his share of health blows as he graced the sidelines, appearing on the injury report more than some of his players in recent seasons. He became a mainstay in coaching booths but was still viewed as the heartbeat of Penn State football.

Paterno continued to receive cancer treatments and was hospitalized on January 13 due to some complications with the treatments. The hospitalization came about a week after Penn State named their new head football coach, former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

During the last week or so, reports stated that family and friends had been gathering at a State College hospital to say their final goodbyes to Paterno. There had not been a lot of noise made from Penn State fans and alum in the last week mostly due to the apparent displeasure with the new coach hiring.

The family put out a statement early Sunday morning to announce that Paterno had passed away at the age of 85. Paterno was in the midst of his 46th season as head coach at Penn State meaning that he was entrenched in Penn State football for more than half of his long life and for the entire life of nearly every other person wrapped up in Penn State football. He was also an assistant at Penn State for an additional 16 years.

Paterno’s firing sparked a number of protests on Penn State’s campus.

Paterno reached a milestone in his final season at Penn State as he recorded the career victories record tallying his 409th win. As positive as all the wins were for Penn State, the impact that Paterno left on the lives of the people at the school is even more valuable. Yes, Paterno was ultimately punished for his actions but let’s not discount what he taught. He taught about being upstanding and honest and about putting character before fame. When it was all said and done, did he embody those teachings 100 percent of the time? No, he did not. However, he imparted those lessons upon generations of young men and women at Penn State and it is evident when you see a former player of his or any graduate of the University for that matter. The teacher may not have been perfect, but his lessons were wise.

Perhaps the firing took the fight out of Paterno. They say in old age sometimes losing something so dear to your heart can drain you of your own will to live. Battling critics, the media, his bosses, and his illnesses must have become too much for Paterno to handle. After nearly four months of battling all of those foes, Paterno is finally at peace and can finally rest. Of course it will be hard to separate Paterno’s legacy from the scandal that left an ugly mark on an otherwise squeaky clean tenure. As true as that is, we must try. Whether you believe the firing was necessary, remember that no one is perfect but some things are inexcusable. The passing of Paterno means that a new era of Penn State football can officially begin. O’Brien and the University will not have to worry about answering questions about whether Paterno will be allowed to make his presence known at games or practices. No one will call for his re-hiring when the team struggles. As sad as his passing may be, it allows for Penn State as a team and as a school to completely start fresh as they rebuild their identity from the ground up. It also paves the way for the honoring of Paterno which would have been awkward under any other circumstance. Paterno was never one to grab the spotlight and his death was perhaps his way of turning the light off of himself to allow his former players and the school to use that light to guide them down the path of an uncertain future in Happy Valley.

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