How the Media Literally Killed Joe Paterno

Back in November, I posted my “Tiger Woods write-up” that argued Tiger Woods’ failure to win another tournament would be the saddest story in sports history. Right on cue, Woods won the Chevron World Challenge two weeks later.

Even if Tiger Woods never had another top 20 finish, his story would forever be dwarfed by Joe Paterno’s.

Remember the bully in your elementary school who picked on the weakest kid to raise his/her self esteem? Today’s media is the adult version. “Let’s pick on the most popular name of the group at fault so we can get the most attention to our media outlet.”

With that said, here’s my opinion of the people who are most responsible for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, from top to bottom:

Jerry Sandusky……………………………………………………Accused of child misconduct
Tim Curley & Gary Schultz…………………………………….I’ll mention these men later
Joe Paterno…………..Told administrators, not police, what McQueary said he saw Mike McQueary………………..Witnessed Sandusky in the shower with a young boy

This is the order of people I thought got the most attention on ESPN and other news programs. If you disagree, let me know in the comments:

Joe Paterno
Jerry Sandusky
Mike McQueary
Tim Curley and Gary Schultz

You may not know who Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are – and that’s not your fault, because they received barely any attention. The former Penn State athletic director and former university vice president, respectively, were legally responsible for informing police about the situation Joe Paterno had told them. They did not. Paterno’s legal responsibility was to inform university administrators, which he did.

I want to clarify I am not pardoning Joe Paterno of fault. I’m not arguing he shouldn’t have gone to police instead of solely his direct contact. However, he is one of two people (Mike McQueary) of the five listed above who legally did what he was supposed to do.

After the scandal, I believe ESPN and other media outlets focused a disproportionate amount of negative attention on the Penn State head coach because of his iconic reputation, which gave their stories more “juice.”

This article by ESPN’s Jemele Hill summarizes what ESPN drove into overkill – that Joe Paterno should have gone to police, not just university administrators. The argument is sound, but received far too much attention compared to the attention on the fact Jerry Sandusky should not “sodomize a ten-year-old boy.”

But our 24/7 media frenzy attacked the head coach for not informing police, and many people were calling for Paterno’s firing. The sudden negative attention put Penn State in an awkward position, and only four days later made the loud decision to let go of the man who started as an assistant coach 61 years earlier.

When the national majority was calling for the firing of coach Paterno, I think this was Penn State’s thought process:

“The media says the nation wants him fired. Our reputation is in serious danger. If we want to preserve our reputation, it’s in our best interest to give the nation what they want, and as quickly as possible.”

We live in a country so scared to be politically incorrect, especially on a large-scale. The politically correct thing to do in this situation was fire Joe Paterno. It didn’t matter he was the longest tenured major college football coach in the nation nor he devoted almost three-quarters of his life to the program.

On November 9th, Joe Paterno was fired via a phone call from Steve Garban, chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees. Less than two weeks later, he was admitted to Mount Nittany Medical Center because of lung cancer.

Just over two months after news broke over Paterno’s treatable form of cancer, he develops “minor” complications, then dies only days later.

My gut tells me Joe Paterno would still be alive if the media handled the situation with a more patient and softer approach. Joe Paterno experienced first hand what it’s like to have a large proportion of the country against you.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who sat down with Paterno during a three-way interview at State College in July, mimics these thoughts in a recent interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis. At 2:34 he says, “I wish (this) whole thing would have been handled differently. I think how it was handled certainly had an impact on his longevity of life.”

An 85-year old man who only knew love and support was abruptly thrust into the inescapable snake pit of the media blacklist. Then, the same man who three weeks earlier coached his football team to their seventh straight win, discovered he had lung cancer.

Joe Paterno’s death on Sunday closed the book on a legend. He cannot return from this tragedy to come back and coach his team to a national title. He will not be around if new developments show he was less at fault. Unlike Tiger Woods,  he does not have the potential to rise back to the top. Unlike Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno did not commit an act of wrongdoing.

Without undermining the irreversible damage he did to those young boys, Jerry Sandusky destroyed a legend. A man who’s final game was scripted to be the most celebrated moment in college football history, a man who devoted his life to the growth of young players and their university, a man who forewent a normal retirement to continue working the one job he’s ever loved, was villianized then let go seemingly in one fell swoop because of the work of a monster. This modern day Iago has done more damage to more people than we may ever know.

My professor Phil Anastasia said it best today: Joe Paterno was Jerry Sandusky’s last victim.

This Shakespearean tragedy is so incredible because it combines one of the greatest heroes and greatest falls reality can construe. Empty from loneliness and dejection, we watched the biggest rockstar in college football slowly die more every day for ten weeks. We saw how a broken heart may eat away at one’s desire to live.

A human being, a husband, a father, I believe Joe Paterno is a tangible example of how modern media literally killed a man.

4 thoughts on “How the Media Literally Killed Joe Paterno”

  1. I think the situation as a whole killed Paterno. I’m not sure it was the media. They showed up to cover the biggest sports scandal of the year, but I think it was the realization of the cover-up and its consequences that ended Paterno’s life.

    Great post!

      1. I can definitely agree with that…I can’t believe he released a statement after Paterno died. What planet does this dude live on?

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