Joe Paterno Died of Lung Cancer, Not a “Broken Heart”
Disgraced former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno died of lung cancer over the weekend at the age of 85, prompting the Daily Beast to ask "Can You Die of a Broken Heart"? The headline has since been changed to "Did Penn State's Sex-Abuse Case Bring On the Death of Joe Paterno?"
What an offensive way to frame this story. Paterno was fired because he allegedly knew that his associate and former underling was raping boys in the Penn State locker room and failed to intervene.
Paterno lived a long and celebrated life. He died of natural causes.
A cynic would say that the timing was another lucky break in JoPa's charmed life. The alternative was dying more slowly of lung cancer while watching the trial of the alleged rapist he might have stopped.
We still don't know the extent of Paterno's wrongdoing. His defenders say he fulfilled his minimal legal obligation by informing his athletic director of abuse in 2002.
In an ideal world, he would have lived to see the case adjudicated. Then again, in an ideal world nobody would get cancer, nobody would get raped, and everybody would do more than the bare legal minimum to protect the vulnerable.
The Beast half-heartedly rattles off some obscure medical theories that might explain anecdotes about old married couples dying within days of each other (like, apart from chance, contagious disease, undeclared sucide, and the fact that long-married couples tend to be, well, old).
Apparently the reporter couldn't find a doctor to assert that Paterno died of anything more exotic than lung cancer. The story quotes an expert who says that we can't know one way or the other, which is an awfully generous view of the evidence. We don't know if Paterno was speared to death by a unicorn, either. Except that he died of lung cancer, and he was 85 years old, which together seem more than sufficient to explain the observed outcome. (Not to rag on the expert, he gave a good and balanced quote. It's just that stupid premises generate inane soundbites.)
This story feeds into the narrative of grievance that some of Paterno's fans are nursing. They are outraged that their hero was fired over the phone after his many years of glorious football service. Hello? He was fired for cause. He didn't deserve a gold watch and a Carvel cake.
The headline should have been, "Can You Die of Shame?" Still a dumb question, but at least it puts the metaphorical emphasis in the right place.