Just days after a controversial interview did little to stem the tide of animosity flooding his way, it was revealed that former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno had suffered a serious setback in his treatment for lung cancer, and that his family and friends were stationed by his bedside to say their final goodbyes. He died Sunday at the age of 85.
His family released a statement Sunday morning to announce his death.
“He died as he lived,” the statement said. “He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”
Of course, the news yesterday that Paterno was dying was met with a mixture of anguish on the part of his supporters to feelings of justice being served on the part of his detractors. Obviously, it is a rare person who is openly rooting for Paterno’s passing, but the revelations that he had knowledge of the alleged abuse undertaken by his former assistant Jerry Sandusky but failed to act certainly are preventing this situation from becoming a full-blown condolence fest.
The revelations of his failing health also sparked a furious debate as to what exactly it is that Paterno should be remembered for. Should college football fans remember him more as the man who holds the record for career wins, or should his name forever be linked with the scandal that eventually brought his tenure at State College to an end?
The answer to this question has to lie somewhere in between those two extremes, but the fact of the matter at the moment is that the thing we should be discussing isn’t Paterno’s place in history or the scandal that compromised it, but instead letting the story breathe while the Paterno family deals with their grief.
There will be people who will say that the mere mention of Joe’s name should immediately bring a reminder of what he did wrong, but this is not an appropriate time. Even though what Paterno did (or more accurately, failed to do) was reprehensible and worthy of contempt, the end of anyone’s life should be a time for family to mourn in peace, instead of having to listen to people dogpile on the loved one that you have lost.
Of course, the reality is that major news outlets will not wait until Paterno’s been laid to rest before they start this frenzied debate all over again, but the fact is that they should. The media in this country as a whole has developed a bad case of “jumping the gun syndrome”, where they are more eager to discuss things like this than to let the family mourn in peace. While this is partly a result of the 24 hour news cycle, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed, and unfortunately for the Paternos, they will be thrust into the middle of this circus once again now that Joe has passed.
Happy Valley will likely be anything but with the news of Paterno’s death, but for the vultures in the media world, it’s just another day at the office.Follow paulmbanks