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Joe Paterno's sad demise

Joe Paterno died of a broken heart. I think there were a lot of people that had a part to play in that, whether it be the board of trustees and the way they handled his situation or even the media and the way they covered everything over the last several months. - Todd Blackledge

It is custom to not speak ill of the dead, and even Joe Paterno's harshest critics did not wish for him to pass on suddenly from the ravages of lung cancer. That is not quite for the reason that Paterno's eulogizers would cite. Eternal peace was far too light a fate, far too much of a graceful exit for a man who goes to his grave with more blood on his hands than Lady Macbeth. Joe Paterno deserved to live on in ignominy, suffering in anguish for decades, completely sound of mind, forever tormented and haunted by the memory of Jerry Sandusky's victims.

Yes, under Pennsylvania law, Joe Paterno bore no legal obligation beyond notifying his superiors. He still had an ethical obligation to go the second mile, if you will. One phone call to any local law enforcement agency is all it would have taken to stop alleged horrific abuse - either in 2002, or during the original allegations in 1998. Not only did Paterno not lift a finger against Sandusky, the alleged perpetrator still held free reign on the Penn State campus. Paterno still spoke at events tied to or honoring Sandusky/The Second Mile, which is synonymous with an explicit endorsement of his conduct. As such, the media honorifics celebrating Paterno's legacy over the past twenty four hours are beyond revolting. As the sum of his actions, Joe Paterno left the world in a worse place than he found it for having coached the Penn State university football program.

The most salient example of this phenomenon is the recent push by Penn State alumni to oust their board of trustees for the perceived sin of succumbing to a witchhunt against Paterno, of not allowing him to retire with dignity. That's the essence of Paterno's legacy: creating an unthinking paternalistic monolith that valued complete fealty to his cult of personality beyond all else. The same sick culture that rallied, no, rioted in support of Paterno as the headlines got uglier than the day. If that zombie nation is the end result of everything Joe Pa worked so hard to build, then his fall from grace could not have come soon enough.

But what of the decades of supposed good one may ask? Paterno may have lost it near the end, allowing his players to run roughshod over campus, and turning a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky's alleged crimes. As Greg Schiano insisted, didn't Paterno once stand for all that was good in college sports? Believe it or not, Penn State was not the only program sticking to the straight and narrow during the salad days of college football. The key differences? Other programs didn't feel the need to pat themselves on the back and issue press releases by the bucket-load for actually following the rules or caring about academics. Oh, and smug, self-satisfied Penn State won far more than its fellow good actors, as much as all the assorted miscreants and vagrants from the SEC and Southwest Conference.

It was never about following the straight and narrow; it was about winning, and that's why the myth of Paterno continues on to this very day in a sadly deluded segment of the population. (Well, that, and throw in a giant slab of downright racism against Miami from the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.) He won games, so all other sins are forgiven. Ordinarily, that view would be largely correct. Dumb narratives aside, sports aren't about the narrative so much as athletic achievement. Sure, Mickey Mantle boozed it up, but any ill-effects of his conduct (or many similar examples over the years) were largely limited. In contrast, Joe Paterno changed lives - and the ones that were not for the better far outweigh the success stories in severity. He hung on too long, and now his legacy is forever tarnished as a result. Any attempt to apologize and cover up for his myriad sins is disingenuous, and ought to be soundly rejected and summarily dismissed.