More Than A Game: Joe Paterno Goes Until The Final Whistle

Posted: January 22, 2012 in ALL II
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Joe Paterno died Sunday morning from a broken heart.  The medical accounts file it as complications from lung cancer chemotherapy but through the eyes of those inside the athletic fraternity (sorority), Paterno’s quickly deteriorating health illustrates the power of sports.  Time and time again the general public “poo-poos” the role of sports in the lives of athletes and to a lesser degree coaches.  It is unsurprising that people cannot understand why players retire too late, make comebacks, and continuously stay close to the game.  It is their life.  In a sad phenomenon people separate their life from their job usually because their jobs fall short of their dreams.  Every once and a while, however, people do merge their talents, interests, and job and go all in to live their jobs because it is their life.  Joe Paterno represented this and his sudden death punctuated a football life.

It is impossible and perhaps too soon to look back fondly on the life (career?) of Joe Paterno without special attention to the child molestation scandal involving Jerry Sandusky.  People will rightly criticize the legendary coach for not doing enough to rid the school of the perverse figure.  People will probably mischaracterize what Paterno did not do thereby worsening the moral failing than realize the complexities of the situation and taking time to read that Paterno did contact authorities.  All of that, for now and for me, remains secondary to the importance of sports to people’s lives.  Favre, Jordan, and Elway all did it there way at times spoiling us and other times meeting our naïve expectations.  Paterno, the polarizing figure of today, represents the extreme.  Football gave him life and its absence took it away.

The attempt at flowery language here should not be confused with overdramatizing the life/death importance.  In 2008, Brent Musburger spoke about his relationship with Joe Paterno on the Dan Patrick Show.  Musburger’s words ring true today (courtesy of Deadspin’s transcript): “This is a tough one for me because I have to say up front that JoePa is a dear friend of mine…I’ll tell your listeners the truth as to why he still does it. He is fearful — and he looks back at Bear Bryant as the example — he is fearful that he would not be with us if he stepped away. He is a man that doesn’t fish, doesn’t play golf…he has no other interest other than his family and football. And he’s just afraid what would happen with the rest of his life if he walks away from it.”

Bear Bryant, it should be noted, died less than a month after coaching his final game.  Joe Paterno went from coaching an OVER-ACHIEVING Pennsylvania State University to losing his job and ultimately his desire to live.  It is a sad but real testament to the power of sports.  What happens after this will be more interesting.  Will his death lead to an intense focus on his good sides with the potential to overrate his career (re: Aaliyah, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger)?  Or will the polarization of the crimes and the lack of institutional control overwhelm his legacy?  Only time will tell but as the play clock hit :00, the life clock also expired.  Joe Paterno: living life til the final whistle.


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