I hate writing obituaries and memoriam posts. Unless you truly know a person, they’re just usually so forced and awkward. Although, with sports it’s a little different, because we are inspired by athletes and coaches on a regular basis, so we feel like we know these people. That’s what makes this whole Joe Paterno thing incredibly strange.
I used to wonder why Paterno was such a big deal. He only won two national championships and the last one was in 1986. I viewed him the same way that I did Bobby Knight – “What have you done for me lately?” But I always lacked one thing that would have given me actual perception – a favorite college football team. Growing up, I had no allegiance to any college football teams, so I never actually understood how incredible it is for one guy to stay with the same team for a career. And now, as a fan of the UCF Knights, I openly beg for George O’Leary to be fired.
That’s why this quote that I came across in reading the media’s reaction to JoePa’s death stuck out a little.
"Why leave?'' Paterno explained in a 1995 interview with the Tampa Tribune. "It's got everything I want: small town, a college town. I can walk home after games. I've been accepted as a faculty member, not treated as a dumb jock. I can do things that suit me intellectually; I'm a little bit of an egghead."
I admire that. As we’ve seen far too often, players and coaches want bright lights and big cities. JoePa was apparently happy with the small town. It’s refreshing, to say the least. That’s why I can understand the incredible outpouring of emotions and respect the students and alumni have been showing for JoePa since news of his death broke yesterday. They see the 46 years of head coaching and the man who charged onto the field for 409 victories.
However, that’s mostly limited to his friends, fans and former players, because the rest of us see him for who he became over the last three months of his life. I don’t quite know how I feel about Paterno anymore. I used to not care who he was. He was a coach, cool. Then I thought he was great because he stuck around and he was this cool old dude who crapped himself during a game.
But now I just want answers. I think we all want answers, because none of us wants our heroes to be exposed as anything but perfect. That's why I understand the love for JoePa. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. And we’ll probably never get those answers now that he’s gone. Most of us won’t settle for “I never heard of that” as an excuse for turning a blind eye to his friend and defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping children in Penn State facilities. Aware or not, that’s the man’s legacy. Trust me, I don’t want it to be his legacy, but I don’t think anything will ever happen to change it now that he’s gone.
And it’s a shame, because he’s still a hero to so many people, who will spend the rest of their lives defending him, despite still wanting the questions answered. After the jump, I have some reactions from the media and JoePa's friends, as well as pictures from the Penn State student body's tribute.
(Images via Getty and Reuters.)
“This is a sad day! Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. 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.” – Jerry Sandusky
"I am numb. Forget the football aspect. We just lost a great contributor to our society. He was way more than a football coach. There are many living positive testimonies walking around because of Joe Paterno. He straightened out many lives.
"He was rare. This was a real guy — he was not a fake. Was he infallible? Absolutely not. He had his flaws; he made mistakes. But he was as close to being what you are supposed to be as anyone I ever have been around.
"He was a teacher who affected thousands (with) life-long lessons.'' – Matt Millen, ESPN analyst and former Penn State football player
“Some who had previously derided Penn State’s 'success with honor' mantra as sanctimonious and self-serving, with Paterno at the forefront of the holier-than-thou facade, were quick — perhaps too quick — to depict him as a Sandusky enabler. And so the battle was joined, with accusers and defenders choosing either side of the Joe issue.” – Bernard Fernandez, Philadelphia Daily News
“It’s more plausible that he was willing to overlook Jerry Sandusky’s alleged behavior for the sake of the program than to believe he didn’t know what was going on. Another theory says Paterno’s unforgivable neglect was partly a generational thing — that people of his age group ignored sexual abuse.
“Whatever the explanation, what happened on Paterno’s watch is tragic for the victims. And sad for Paterno, his family and his legacy.” – Herb Gould, Chicago Sun-Times
“Paterno came from a simpler time and that might have been his undoing. He preferred the early years when, if a player ran afoul of the law, he would take care of it himself and ‘run his tail off in practice.’ He believed in a Norman Rockwell portrait of America that had long since fallen from the wall.” – Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer
"He made a mistake, but I think Joe Paterno still lived an incredibly positive life. He goes down in my book as an incredible human being.” - Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell
“It's despicable conduct that should have no connection to a man lovingly known as 'JoePa.' But Sandusky was one of Paterno's top assistant coaches for 30 years. Even if Paterno had not been told Sandusky had molested a boy, critics would suggest he should have known more and done more.” – Philadelphia Inquirer editorial
“I'm saddened by JoePa's death, saddened by his decline at Penn State, saddened that he failed to do the right thing in his handling of the pedophilia scandal that severely damaged his reputation as a man of principle and integrity.” – Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"It's not only a great loss for us of a great benefactor and a great man, but our country lost. He showed us an example of what it is to be a coach and a teacher." – Jo Dumas, Penn State professor
“… if Joe Paterno’s legacy is to be an example of anything, it’s that blind hero worship is goddamn retarded and there’s a very simple truth why: Inside the heart of every single man, woman and child, whether it’s Mother Teresa or old-timey football coaches, lies an asshole. For such is the human condition. Homo assholicus they should’ve called us.” – The Superficial
"It's going to be very hard to imagine college football without Joe in this world. I met Joe in 1962 when I was the head coach at Howard College and he was an assistant at Penn State. I took a train up to State College to watch them during spring practice. We started playing each other once I got to West Virginia University in 1966 as an assistant coach, which was Joe's first year as Penn State's head coach. We had many great battles over the 40 plus years, and many great times together with our wives on various coaching trips." - Former President George H.W. Bush
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Joe Paterno. He was an outstanding American who was respected not only on the field of play but in life generally — and he was, without a doubt, a true icon in the world of sports. I was proud that he was a friend of mine. Barbara and I send our condolences to his devoted wife Suzanne and to his wonderful family." - Mike Krzyzewski
Ed Hill of Altoona, Pa., a longtime season-ticket holder, had a different opinion: "His legacy is without question as far as I'm concerned," he said. "The Board of Trustees threw him to the wolves. I think Joe was a scapegoat nationally. . . . I'm heartbroken." – Los Angeles Times
“Lives are not jury trials; we should not expect a verdict at the end. Paterno was never the saint his worshipers made him out to be, and he was certainly not the devil his loudest recent critics have portrayed.” – Michael Rosenberg, Detroit Free Press
“Joe and his wife Sue showed remarkable benevolence that will live forever at Penn State. With a lifetime giving total of more than $4 million, the couple doubled the size of the University Park library, endowed faculty positions and scholarships in the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Architecture and the University Libraries and supported two building projects — the Penn State All-Sports Museum and an interfaith spiritual center, among other gifts.” – Devin Weakland, Next Gen Journal
“It’s surreal, right now,” said Jenna Adams, a junior from Nazareth who made clear in agreeing to an interview that she wouldn’t respond to questions about Paterno’s role in the Jerry Sanduskyscandal. “It will take a while to fully come to grips with the fact that he’s gone and what his death means for our family.” – The Patriot News
“Those who knew him and of him recalled not the controversy that surrounded the final months of his life, but his tenure as architect of one of the most renowned football programs in college sports.” – Lucas Murphy, Courier Post
“I think this last tragic series of incidents probably took his will to live,” said Larry Foster, a friend of Paterno and his family for 60 years. “It probably bore down on him because it was so opposite to what he was used to. When he made the decision of handling it the way that he did, I think he felt like he was doing the right thing. And it turned out to be the wrong thing. His words, ‘I should have done more,’ I think I’ll keep in my memory.” – New York Times
Paterno's death leaves open wounds and unanswered questions. He was never implicated directly in the scandal but had to stand in judgment against himself — the high man of character he had proved to be since arriving on campus in 1950. – Chris Dufresne, L.A. Times