A Sports Legend Passes On: Joe Paterno Dead At 85.

Marc Elliott

SILVER CREEK… It is a sad and indifferent day in the world of sports, especially in the universe of college football. Some 74 days after being fired from a job he had worked at for 61 years, 44 of which he served as the head coach, former Penn State University head football coach Joseph Vincent Paterno passed away. The official obituary for Joe will say that he died from complications of treatment for cancer. As many friends have said on this day, he really died from a broken heart. 

As you know by now if you follow sports at all (or even if you don’t), Paterno was fired in disgrace after former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted for alleged sexual abuse of minors. A grad assistant working with the team had witnessed Sandusky in a compromising situation with a young boy at a football camp. The assistant then went to Paterno and then the campus police. For reasons I have not really been able to filter out as of yet, neither Paterno nor the assistant followed through with law enforcement officials to see to it that a full investigation took place that would have resulted either in an arrest or an acquittal if it were determined that no laws were broken. 

This was the premise for the dismissal of Paterno and other university officials. As of this writing, there is a lot of investigating and legal maneuvering still in progress, Sandusky will presumably have his day in court, and the Paterno and Penn State family will go about laying Joe to rest and honoring him in some fashion, which may or may not include some official recognition from the university in Paterno’s honor.

As in all situations of this magnitude, there are many underlying stories about who knew what and when, and if moves were made to protect certain individuals and even the program itself from major scandal. The supporters and detractors of Paterno have both been heard loud and clear in all available types of media, and there seems to be no middle ground between either side. That he was 85 and still actively coaching drew the ire of some fans of the program, while others loved him for his loyalty and dedication. 

Where do I stand? I wrote after the news first broke about his firing that I thought Paterno was treated quite harshly by the university. I still believe that. I wonder to this day if Paterno’s right to due process was respected. If Joe had to go, I can’t imagine that there wasn’t some way to accomplish that and save face for all involved. Don’t forget, though, that there is a faction at PSU that has wanted Joe-pa to be replaced for several years, and that faction just may have included a trustee or two, the very group of people entrusted to decide Paterno’s fate.

In the end I hope our system of justice will prevail. If Sandusky is found guilty of the allegations by a court of his peers, I hope he receives all the punishment fit for his alleged crimes. Child sex abusers are the scum of the earth—even in prison systems they exist at the bottom of the food chain and are reviled by all. 

I am going to remember Joe for the good things he did for people and for the young men that were put under his charge. I am going to remember all of the Saturday afternoons I spent from the early ’60s on watching his teams compete as some of the best in the nation. I am going to remember watching a coach who, by all accounts, always did things the right way, with ultimate consideration for his team and its players first and foremost. 

I will wonder, to a degree, why Joe handled this situation the way he did. I, like most of us, will never have the answer to that. But over time, I have learned my own lessons about life that I can look to at this moment. In challenging situations, place yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think things through from what might be their perspective. There is no reason to ever elevate or deflate your own emotions until you are in possession of every fact regarding a matter. 

Above all, I can never know why someone may have done something they shouldn’t have, or not done something they should have. I will never pretend to know what a person’s emotional state, stress level, or other factors might have been relative to how they handled themselves in a serious matter. I’ve not been granted the power to pass judgment upon someone by anyone. What I do know is that a man who had contributed so much to an institution and to our society was relegated to live out his final 74 days with us in a state of anguish, embarrassment, and stress most of us will never know. What Sandusky is alleged to have done, if true, can never be forgiven. The lack of follow-through upon this vital matter may never be excused or understood. Neither can the shabby treatment of an American football icon who had done so much for so many… PEACE   



LAST WEEKEND 2-0 for a playoff total of 7-3. I already know who I am going with in this year’s title tilt. I’ll let you in on it in next week’s edition of the Worldwide Duluth Reader Weekly. Until then…OVER & OUT!

Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for the past ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.