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In his 85 years, Joe Paterno became a living legend in the football world. Known as “JoePa” to his thousands of Penn State fans, the beloved head coach for 46 seasons led his team to two national titles and a record-setting 409 victories.
His legendary career ended abruptly in November, when he was fired after a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, 67, was charged with sexually molesting 10 young boys, including some in the Penn State athletic complex. Paterno was fired November 9 after he was criticized for not doing enough to stop Sandusky.
He was diagnosed with “a treatable form of lung cancer” the following weekend, according to a statement his son Scott released at the time. But JoePa’s health took a turn for the worse, as the cancer proved to be aggressive. Joseph Vincent Paterno died Sunday morning, at the age of 85, surrounded by his family.
Yet his legacy lives on — at the statue of Paterno situated outside the university’s Beaver Stadium, where mourners descended on a makeshift shrine, draping an American flag on the statue’s shoulders and wrapping its neck with a Penn State scarf.
His legacy lives on in his five children, all of who are Penn State graduates, and his 17 grandchildren.
His legacy lives on in other football coaches and players, who looked to Paterno for guidance; in government, including Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and former US president and friend George H.W. Bush; and his passing has sent a ripple through Hollywood as well.
Jerry Sandusky, who is currently awaiting trial on 52 criminal counts of sexual abuse of 10 children over 15 years, released a statement, saying, “This is a sad day! Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family, and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life.”
Sandusky was Paterno’s top assistant for years until he retired in 1999. He has denied the allegations made against him by prosecutors.
“He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession. Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition,” Sandusky said. “Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached.”
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Joe Paterno,” former President George H.W. Bush said in a statement. “He was an outstanding American who was respected not only on the field of play but in life generally – and he was, without a doubt, a true icon in the world of sports. I was proud that he was a friend of mine. Barbara and I send our condolences to his devoted wife Suzanne and to his wonderful family.”
“The Penn State Football program is one of college football’s iconic programs because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno,” said Bill O’Brien, who took over as head coach for Penn State after Paterno was fired. “There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said in a statement, “His legacy as the winningest coach in major college football and his generosity to Penn State as an institution and to his players, stand as monuments to his life. As both man and coach, Joe Paterno confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance. His place in our state’s history is secure.”
Jay Paterno, JoePa’s son and most recently the passing game coordinate and quarterbacks coach for Penn State, tweeted his thanks for those who praised his father. “Thanks to @Coach_Chambers & the men’s hoops team for their tribute to Joe Paterno today,” he wrote. “Our family thanks Penn Staters, students & all people for prayers & support for my Dad. He felt your support in his fight.”
He added, “A special thanks to the Hospital staff. They helped us all through the past few days. Can not begin to express our gratitude.”
Holly Robinson Peete tweeted, “RIP Joe Paterno. My daddy -Distinguished Alumni of PSU- was your biggest fan and supporter…I think my first words were “Joe Pa”
She was quick to add in another tweet, “…the impact of the unspeakable betrayal of these victims is so far reaching… My prayers out to PSU family, alumni as they move on.”
Miami Heat forward LeBron James tweeted, “”R.I.P Joe Pa! Met him before while I was out at Nike campus. He was great man!!”
Michael Irvin, former NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys, tweeted, “On this Championship Sunday the lord called home a champion coach. R.I.P. Coach Joe Paterno. My prayers are with the family.”
While JoePa was loved and memorialized by many, criticism for the tarnished Penn State legacy poured in Sunday.
Justin Stangel, head writer and executive producer for Late Show with David Letterman, tweeted, “Will there be a moment of silence for Joe Paterno, to honor his silence when he discovered children were being attacked?”
Opie from the Opie & Anthony channel on Sirius XM wrote on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, “What an insult! Penn State having a MOMENT OF SILENCE for Joe Paterno. That’s what got him in trouble in the first place!” When multiple followers responded with criticism, Opie shot back, “So strange how many people are sticking up for Joe Paterno seeing how Joe didn’t stick up for innocent children. #GetHelp” and “Maybe the haters are right saying it’s too soon for Joe Paterno jokes. I guess I’ll be like Joe Pa and wait 10 years. #ZingZangZoom”
Kelly Oxford, a popular comedy blogger who is currently penning a sitcom pilot for NBC, tweeted, “Joe Paterno’s doctors also said they wish they could have done more.”
Westboro Baptist Church, which is known for their extreme views against homosexuality and for picketing the funerals of Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, and several US soldiers, announced they plan to picket Paterno’s funeral as well. Margie Phelps, daughter of pastor Fred Phelps, wrote on Twitter, “”Penn State Penn Rape” rings in Joe Paterno’s ears in hell. He partook of sin for fame & fortune. Worth NOTHING to him now. #PicketFuneral”
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