Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Joe Paterno died yesterday morning. He was 85 years old. "Joe Pa" spent more than sixty years in the employ of - and to a large degree in the service of - the Pennsylvania State University system. He spent the final four and one half decades of his life as the head coach of the Penn State University football team. His career ended with his teams having won 409 games - the most victories ever earned by a single coach in Division I college football.

But his career ended under circumstances that as recently as Win #409 would have seemed unfathomable. On a Thursday evening in early November 2011, the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University terminated the employment of the University's football coach. In the "Transaction Wire" of the sports page, the last entry of Joe Paterno's read, "FIRED".

I did not know Joe Paterno. I do not think I know anyone who knew him. There shall be many words written about him in death - as there were about him in life. There shall be words of praise, words of condemnation, words of anger and words of forgiveness. People who knew him in life shall write about him in death, sharing their view of him through the prism of whatever relationship they had with him. People who did not know him in life will continue to feel free to offer an opinion of him - whether good, bad or indifferent. Opinions are like a##holes after all. Every one has one. And here in the Century of Gaga and the Kardashians, every one is eager to expose you to theirs - regardless of its actual informational content.

Not having known the man, I cannot engage in the hypocrisy of pretending to offer an informed opinion of him. I know that it shall prove worth remembering no doubt as the words come pouring in from all corners in the days and weeks to come that History is in the mind of the teller. And it is worth remembering as well that no teller can now - in death - change the man Joe Paterno was in life. He was who he was. Whoever that was. Be it an effort to elevate or an effort to impugn matters not. Not to the dead anyway.

When sorting through the seemingly endless number of things that shall be written about his life and his death, it may be helpful to remember that regardless of what he was, Paterno was a man. He was - by genetic limitation - imperfect and flawed. Just like me. Just like you. Just like all of us....

....just so many shades of gray.


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