Well, when I heard last Sunday that JoePa had died, I thought “well, they did it”. Because I doubt JoePa died of cancer so much as he died of a broken heart. I cannot say he didn’t have cancer – he may have – but the timing of the announcement was way too convenient for me.
I thought about writing right away, but knew I would be too angry. Like Bear Bryant (and of course, JoePa has said this many times), losing his coaching job left him without something he loved, and which kept him getting up in the morning. I know he had Sue and his children and his grandchildren, and I know they made his life worth living to a great extent, but JoePa loved his job, and many many people who have lost their jobs get depressed, and wonder why they try. I know it took me a long while to get over not being hireable any longer, simply because I got “too old”. I am lucky in that I have many interests that I have time for now, but I have noticed I’m slowly getting lazier, and just want to sit and read or watch television far more than I should.
But back to JoePa. I love football. Being a Texan, I am sure many of you are saying “well, of course”. I played in the high school band back in the dark ages, and loved going to the football games, watching the lads play, and marching at half-time. I have followed college football more in these latter years, when I felt like I could afford to sit in front of the tv every Saturday and watch the games all day long. And it got me interested in many teams, and how they do. But Penn State Nittany Lions were one of the faves (Notre Dame is still my favourite, but that is because of Daryl Lamonica, the Irish, and the fight song). Why I like Penn State is because of JoePa. He was a man who stayed on the right side of the law, kept his players, over the years, interested enough in their other studies to have the highest rate of football graduates of all universities and colleges, and he and his wife Sue gave back so much of his salary to the school to build things, like one of the libraries for which he was the chief donor. He stood sturdy, and for the right, and if his great age meant he was not familiar with a lot of the seamier side of college football, and the world around him, he still knew right from wrong.
And this is why, in spite of his doing what he was supposed to do, he got what now appears to be scant information about something that happened on a Friday night on Saturday morning, and reported it to his superiors on Sunday, what he knew, that is, he stood got the brunt of the blame, simply because he has been the face of Penn State for so many years. I did not know, until I read the papers on Monday, that in fact, he was sent a note to call the head of the board, and was told he was fired over the telephone, after he made the call himself.
The man who called him did not have the courtesy to even pick up the phone and call Joe himself. That Sue called the number back and told the man, twice, that Joe, after 61 years, deserved better, was a marvelous thing to me. I am also appreciative of the many students who have held vigils, and who have stood up for JoePa ever since his unfair firing.
What makes me sad is that people are going to learn that hear-say evidence is not allowed in court, that Joe Paterno, had he said something to the police, would have been told that since he did not witness whatever he was talking about, there was little they could do. I don’t care that in the aftermath they are all out-talking one another, saying they would do more, and trying to cover their own butts, Joe did not live to see this. His family will, and his fans and friends will, but it will always be that Joe went to his grave feeling that he had let everyone down, and his accomplishments both on the field and off will forever be coloured by future coaches and media, who did not have the chance to know him, as the man who let the sex offender get away with it.
It is a damn shame, and I will forever adore JoePa for who he was, not for how he will forever have a footnote on his curriculum vitae.
Rest in Peace, JoePa. You deserve it, and most of us know you did nothing wrong. We still love you.
Carol Stepp, Austin, TX