The news about Joe Paterno's rapidly declining health was a big story all weekend. Saturday night, it was reported that Paterno died but his sons, Scott and Jay, both took to Twitter to refute the reports. Sunday morning comes word that the iconic coach is dead at 85.
A family spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press that Joseph Vincent Paterno died at a State College hospital at 9:25 ET, just over two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
"It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today," a statement from the family read. ”His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled. He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”
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Paterno was synonymous with Penn State where he was a sainted figure on campus. A posting to Penn State’s official Facebook page read simply: “With great sadness we mourn the passing of Coach Joe Paterno…Few have done more.”
The winningest college football coach of all time, "JoePa" racked up more victories than anyone else in major college football before he was fired from Penn State amid a child molestation scandal. His storied career included 409 wins in 46 seasons and two national championships and guided five teams to unbeaten, untied seasons. The reputation he built was even more impressive because he insisted on keeping graduation rates high while maintaining on-field success.
Paterno’s legendary career has of course been overshadowed by the fallout from the worst scandal in intercollegiate sports history. Jerry Sandusky, a longtime defensive coordinator who was on Paterno's staff for two national title seasons, was arrested Nov. 5 and ultimately charged with sexually abusing a total of 10 boys. Sandusky's arrest sparked outrage not just locally but across the nation and ultimately led to Paterno's ouster.
There has been a trend in recent weeks, however, in which Penn State alumni -- especially former players such as Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris -- have been questioning the trustees' actions and accusing them of failing to give Paterno a chance to defend himself.
It may be difficult for Sandusky's victims to mourn Paterno's passing, and they can't be forgotten during this time, but neither can all the good that Paterno did during his career nor the fact he may have been unjustly blamed. While Attorney general Linda Kelly has said that Paterno fulfilled his legal responsibilities, there remains a gap between that duty and the larger one, to save the children who were in harm's way. The scandal was a tragic final chapter to Paterno's celebrated life, a life which left a lasting mark on Penn State and on all of college sports.
Penn State students, professors and alumni mourned Paterno on Sunday and expressed hope that he would be remembered more for the good he did than for his downfall. Initial reactions to the death of the longtime Penn State coaching legend indicate he touched many lives on many levels and his successful career may well outweigh the scandal.
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