Sunday, January 22, 2012

JoePa's Final Chapter

After the child sex scandal that engulfed Penn State only a few months ago, there simply was no way that Joe Paterno's obituary — when the time for it came — would not mention Jerry Sandusky.

In fact, I remember saying that very thing to some people right after Paterno was fired. I just didn't realize Paterno's obituary would be written so soon.

But, like Richard Nixon, who lived nearly 20 years after he resigned the presidency but whose obituary still mentioned Watergate in the first paragraph, it was inevitable that, at the time of his passing, Paterno would be remembered, at least in part, for the scandal that ended his coaching career.
  • Paterno was a "a legend, lion and tainted leader," wrote Rana Cash for The Sporting News.

  • The first paragraph of ESPN's obituary observed that Paterno "won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity."

  • Paterno was an "Ivy League–educated coach who transformed sleepy Penn State University into a national football power ... only to see his career end abruptly and his legacy tarnished," wrote Chris Dufresne in the Los Angeles Times.

  • The New York Times has long had the reputation for writing the best and most thorough obituaries in the print business, but Richard Goldstein, nevertheless, could not avoid mentioning the scandal in his summation of Paterno's life.

    Paterno, he wrote, was "a symbol of integrity in collegiate athletics only to be fired ... amid a child sexual–abuse scandal."
Try as they might, no obituary — at least, none that I have seen today — has been able to avoid mentioning the scandal.

And some really have tried.

John Canzano, writing in The Oregonian last night when rumors were swirling that Paterno was dead, spoke of the "sad irony" that JoePa's life had become.

"[N]o discussion about Paterno will ever be complete without noting that Penn State's Board of Trustees fired him Nov. 9 in the aftermath of the child sex abuse charges against former assistant and close Paterno friend Jerry Sandusky," Canzano wrote — anticipating by a matter of hours the challenge facing those who would write Paterno's obituary.

Perhaps Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated did the best job of balancing the good and the bad.

"For so long," McCallum wrote, "Joe Paterno seemed indestructible, more icon than man ... But when the end came, it came with such breathtaking suddenness that even non–believers must pause ... to wonder if it wasn't part of some cosmic script."

In the end, I suppose, we are left with our contradictory thoughts and feelings about this man who did so much good but whose memory will be forever linked to so much bad.

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