Phil Knight, CEO of Nike delivered the eulogy for Coach Joe Paterno. In October, The Basicman Perspective took to task the stone throwing administrative elites for their rush to judgment and repugnant phone dismissal of the coach for his miniscule sliver of the Sandusky mess at Penn State. (JoePa: The King is Dead, Long Live the King) Only now are we getting the exculpatory details of the bigger picture void of self-sanctimonious media spin and defensive finger pointing from PSU’s pathetic administration vainly trying to save face.
BasicMan averred that they had “… issued Joe Paterno a death sentence.” In a subsequent conversation with a good friend familiar with the Penn State culture I suggested that Paterno would pass within five years. His reply was that he wouldn’t last the year. As we now know, he was correct.
Cancer will be remembered as the official cause of Joe-Pa’s death, not Jerry Sandusky. This is a convenient fact for PSU’s board of trustees because they will use it to deflect their complicity in Paterno’s passing. At the coach’s memorial service on the Penn State campus, Phil Knight excoriated them for their enlightened ivory tower malfeasance. His words were received with thunderous ovation from the standing room only crowd in attendance.
When men of honor, character, and purpose are maligned and mischaracterized – the wounds are invisible, deep seeded, and often incurable. They become quiet, introspective, and hurt. The mind, heart and soul are the hardest hit, not the ego. While it is true that cancer took Coach Paterno’s life, his treatment at the hands of Penn State’s administrators likely took away a large measure of his will to live. This is especially tragic knowing how much of his life he gave to that institution.
General George S. Patton’s well chronicled life was defined by discipline, honor, and character. He devoted everything to his country, the army, his troops and the mission. Patton’s final front line command was with the 3rd Army. He was publicly demoted for airing a politically incorrect perspective on post war Germany after leading the Allied Forces to victory in WWII. The demotion to the paper pushing 15th Army command put him into deep depression where he made a decision to resign as opposed to retire from the US Army, a move that would have totally divorced him from the entity that had publicly defined his life. Prior to making the announcement of that extraordinary decision he died of complications from a car accident where it was thought he would recover. One has to wonder how much of his will to live survived his public demotion.
Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, legendary football coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide is a slightly different story in that his voluntary retirement was not clouded with controversy. It does however strike at the heart of this thesis; having a purpose and a will to live. By every account he was an honorable man. After leading young men for 38 years on the football field (37 of 38 winning seasons) he felt his players deserved better coaching than they had gotten from him in 1982. When asked by a reporter what he would do in retirement, he remarked, “I’ll probably croak in a few weeks”. Coach Bryant died 28 days later of a heart attack. One wonders if he, like Paterno and Patton, lost his reason and will to get up in the morning.
Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl had much to say about this phenomenon in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Phil Knight’s passionate defense of his mentor Joe Paterno is a rally cry to all that see injustice served up by those that are first to grab a microphone with a convenient and credible alibi that deflects their own complicity. In the end history will judge. It will likely be kinder to Joe Paterno than was the institution he loved and served for more than 50 years. Those in attendance at Paterno’s memorial service that rose to their feet in support of Knight’s words received a glimpse of how he will be remembered.
Rest easy, Coach.