Joe Paterno is dead.
I didn’t know that much about the man, other than he was the Penn State head football coach for as long as I can remember.
I first became aware of Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions in December of 1971 when I learned that my as Southwest Conference champions, my beloved Texas Longhorns were set to play Penn State in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1972.
The Horns would end up losing that game, 30 to 6.
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Paterno all those years ago. It was in all the pre-Cotton Bowl media hoopla. To me, it seemed he always wore that dark blue slicker; regardless of the temperature. And I always thought he looked 65. Even 40 years ago. Here he is after the UT victory in the Cotton Bowl. In this photo, he just looks like a younger version of himself….like maybe 64.
Again, I didn’t know the man, nor do I know much about his life, other than he designed all the X’s and O’s on the Penn State gridiron for 46 years and in that time, he amassed a hell of a record: 409–136–3.
And yes, I also knew that he was, for all intents and purposes, embroiled in the recent scandal at Penn State. And of course, I learned more than I wanted to about Joe Pa when the mess emerged about former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.
In early November, Sandusky was arrested on 40-counts relating to the sexual abuse of eight young boys over a 15-year period. Most of the incidents allegedly happened on the campus of Penn State. According to a grand jury investigation, Mike McQueary, who was at the time a graduate student assistant, supposedly told Paterno back in 2002 that he’d seen Sandusky sodomizing 10-year-old boy in Penn State football’s shower facilities. The report also says Paterno notified Athletic Director, Tim Curley the next day about the incident, A bit later, he also notified Gary Schultz, the Director of Business and Finance, who oversaw the University Police.
Here’s where it gets a bit confusing: Paterno said McQueary told him he’d witnessed “an incident in the shower” but said he never conveyed anything else; certainly nothing specific and McQueary himself denied ever using the words “anal” or “rape” when describing what he’d seen in the shower.
Prosecutors stated that Paterno was not accused of any wrongdoing, as he fulfilled his legal obligation to report the incident to his immediate supervisor, Curley. However, he was harshly criticized for not reporting the incident to police himself, or at least seeing to it that it was;
He says he first told his father about the incident, then the next day informed Paterno, and then ten days later informed other university officials. He was also criticized for not intervening to protect the boy from Sandusky, as well as for not reporting the incident to police himself. McQueary insists he made sure the assault stopped before leaving, and that he discussed the incident with police but there are no records of this, either with university police or officials with the City of State College.
The university senior vice president and others have been charged with perjury for saying that McQueary had reported only horseplay at the time. A prominent Pennsylvania physician says he was present when McQueary described the incident to his father and the description mentioned hearing but not seeing a slapping sound in the other room, seeing Sandusky put his hand around the child’s waist and later emerging wearing a towel. McQueary’s testimony for the preliminary perjury trial says that he heard ‘two or three’ slapping sounds before entering the locker room, and later saw Sandusky with his arms around the child’s waist while hearing ‘more than one of the shower heads running and saw that the child’s hair ‘was wet’; although he did not see any sexual contact at all….just that the positions of the bodies told him something was ” extremely sexual” and ‘over the line” . According to Pennsylvania governor, Tom Corbett, who as state attorney general opened the grand jury investigation, McQueary “met the minimum obligation in reporting the situation. but he went on to say that it u”did not in my opinion meet a moral obligation that all of us would have.”
Joe Paterno 1926 - 2012
On the night of November 8th, hundreds of supporters gathered in front on Paterno’s home. He addressed the crowd, thanked them and then said the that kids involved at the center of the scandal are the real victims. They deserve prayers. The next day, Paterno announced he would retire at the end of the season, stating:
. . . I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can…
Later that evening, however, the Board of Trustees voted to relieve Paterno of his coaching duties effective immediately. Tom Bradley, Sandusky’s successor as defensive coordinator, was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2011 season, but ultimately, Paterno was permanently replaced by New England Patriots offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien on January 7th—a very unpopular move within the Penn State Nation. Mike McQueary wasn’t fired and many assume that’s because he’s protected by Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law.
In November 2011, his family reported that Paterno had a treatable form of lung cancer. On January 13 of this year, he was hospitalized in State College for complications relating to his cancer treatment. He died nine days later.
I abhor what happened at Penn State but believe it or not, my feelings on the scandal aren’t the gist of this post. Therefore, I won’t get into the politics of what happened or what didn’t happen in this scandal. Ultimately, that will be up to a far more nebulous judge. But know this much: Joe Paterno died of a broken heart as much as lung cancer.
The 85-year old had been coaching since 1950–a whopping 62-years. It was all he knew. The stress of having to quit, for the reasons he quit, coupled with an illness that was spreading ,only exacerbated his demise, I’m sure.
Paterno’s death isn’t all that different from men and women who die months…weeks…in some cases, hours after their spouses,the loves of their lives. Paterno may have been married forever and might have been tremendously happy and that marriage might have produced five kids who in turn, gave him a slew of cherished grandchildren, but I would venture a guess that coaching was the love of his life. God knows I’m not dismissing romantic love, but what I’m talking about is that different kind of love; one that solidly identifies you. Molds you; shapes you, and only makes the love of a good man or woman even better.
Paterno’s death reminds me of my parents’ mortality; both are in their early 80’s. They’re slower than they used to be. More frail; more narrowcast in their thoughts. They make me think more and more about life…
As I age, I’m beginning to understand that life is about will. Will is everything, but the problem is, heartache torments will. And when that happens, the pain can keep us from eating, sleeping and from having a quality of life. The mind controls the will and if the mind is sure there’s nothing to live for, then why bother living? Conversely, there have been cases of people who survived on sheer determination. They defied their odds. We’re talking enumerable odds, too.
Twenty years ago, I interviewed a man dying of AIDS. His body was covered in the ugly blue/black lesions brought on by Kaposi’s Sarcoma. He fought the mental haze often accompanied with this opportunistic disease and when he could, he’d lie quietly and focus on his body. In his mind’s eye, he pictured a huge eraser poised above his body. He envisioned erasing each lesion on every inch of his body and he’d rub and rub until they disappeared. After months of this exercise, he noticed a difference….so did his doctors. They were amazed at his progress. Many of the lesions had either disappeared or were reduced in size and his T-cell count (T-lymphocytes or white blood cells) were up exponentially. They called it nothing short of a miracle
And even though I understand the variables–he was young and in good health prior to getting sick, plus he had the money to afford the best health care money could buy in the early 90’s and despite the stigma associated with the disease, he had a wonderful support staff that helped him physically and emotionally– this story has always stayed with me. I’m a big believer in the power of the mind; its ability to comprehend, to create, though not in an L. Ron Hubbard way and not in a Timothy Leary way, though I think save for all the acid, that cat was actually kind of on to something. But I do believe in the Law of Attraction: we reap what we sow; we create what we feel. While I’ll never look like Angelina Jolie (my mind is housed in made of a substance known as gray matter..NOT Harry Houdini!!!) despite my best mental gymnastics, I do believe I have the power to be the best Me I can be. I just have to want it….to need it; to finally get bored with not reaching the potential that would transform me.
I know this can happen, because it has. I’m living proof. You see, I recently lost 23 pounds in relatively short time. I simply decided to do it.
That said, I will never again take the phrase, “I changed my mind” cavalierly.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, & acceptable, & perfect, will of God.”
Or something like that.