Saturday, August 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

An unpleasant view of Paterno

A recent photo of the wan and aggrieved coach speaks to the misery he's endured.

An unpleasant view of Paterno

The first thing you notice about about Sally Jenkins' Washington Post interview with Joe Paterno is the accompanying photo.

In it, Paterno -- his sweater slightly askew, his hair barely combed -- looks more dissheveled than I've ever seen him. He also looks almost exactly like his late mother, who lived into her 90s. Most disturbingly, though, at least for anyone who cares about him, is the fact that he looks like he's been through a wringer.

He has, of course. The lung cancer, the chemotherapy and his wrenching departure from Penn State after 61 loyal years has caused him to lose much. As the photo makes clear, he's lost weight. There's less flesh in his drawn face, less sparkle in his eyes.

You can blame the physical problems for the physical shortcomings. But, for the sparkle that's missing, blame the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Even if it does turn out that Paterno is, to some degree, culpable in that horrid episode, the way in which his dismissal took place seems unnecessarily cold, callous, cruel.

It's also interesting that the sweater Paterno is wearing has the Nittany Lions logo on his breast. Even if he now wants to -- and there's been no indication that's the case -- it would be impossible for him to divorce himself entirely from the university where he spent all but 24 years of his long life. He's probably still sleeping in Penn State pajamas, scribbling the notes he loves to make on Penn State stationery with Penn State pens. And I'd bet the 2012 calendar that hangs in the kitchen of his McKee Street home includes the Nittany Lions football schedule.

It's ironic that this man whose view of life was built on the Greek and Roman classics, on mythical heroes like Ovid's Aeneas, has now become a tragic hero himself. It reminds me of that line from "King Lear", another figure whose greatness collides with a sad and chaotic conclusion:

"Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither; Ripeness is all."

Paterno, as the photo suggests, is managing to endure.

But regardless of how this whole sad story concludes for him, what figures to endure even longer is his legacy.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
About this blog
Reporter Frank Fitzpatrick, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is covering his eighth Olympic Games and has yet to win a medal in anything except caffeine consumption. He has also been the beat writer for the Phillies, Eagles and Penn State football.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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