By Kelly Haugh
The world lost a great man today, and Penn State students and alumni lost a huge chunk of their heart. Joe Paterno, legendary coach, philanthropist, and role model, passed away this morning at the age of 85.
January 22 will go down as the saddest day in Penn State history. As the Penn State community comes together to grieve, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to Paterno’s family and all who held him dear.
Officially, Paterno died due to complications from his battle with lung cancer, but if you ask many students and alumni they’ll tell you he died of a broken heart. Although today is a time to grieve, many couldn’t help but blame those who threw Paterno’s impeccable reputation and 61 years of coaching under the bus, stripping him of both his job and good name in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.
Though Penn State students and alumni never wavered in their support of Paterno, most of the press and public seemed intent on crucifying him and the University and Board of Trustees essentially hung him out to dry. His long history and superb moral character didn’t matter to those who wanted to place the blame for Sandusky’s long reign of abuse squarely on his shoulders.
The emotional toll the scandal must have taken on a good man like Paterno is unimaginable, and it couldn’t have helped the cancer diagnosis he received a week later.
Paterno deserved more than to be made a scapegoat, and he definitely didn’t deserve to go out like this.
Before November, Paterno seemed like Superman. Nothing could stop him. Most Penn Staters couldn’t fathom a day when JoePa wouldn’t be our coach. He was the Betty White of college football, and it was easy to imagine him still as sharp as ever at his own 90th birthday bash.
Even a few days ago, there remained an unrealistic hope that a change in the Board of Trustees’ leadership could somehow redeem Paterno. Now it’s too late.
No one can ever make right the many wrongs perpetrated against the man who defined everything good Penn State once stood for. All that can be done now is to remember Paterno’s legacy, honor his many accomplishments and clear his name once and for all. That’s the very least he deserves.
Thank you, Joe, for all you’ve given us over the last 61 years and for teaching us all to be the best people we can be. You set an example for us all and touched more lives than you could ever know, and you will never be forgotten.
Penn State will never be the same.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, Joe Paterno’s family has asked that donations be made to the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania or the Penn State THON.