Joe Paterno services planned at Penn State; funeral to be protested by Westboro Baptist Church

January 23, 2012

Joe Paterno, the legendary former coach of the Penn State football team, died Saturday at the age of 85 from lung cancer in a hospital in State College, Pa. As Leonard Shapiro reported:

Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach who was among the most admired figures in the annals of collegiate sports but whose reputation was shattered in the wake of a child abuse scandal involving one of his longtime assistants, died Jan. 22. He was 85.

The cause was lung cancer, according to a statement released by Mount Nittany Medical Center, the hospital in State College, Pa., where Mr. Paterno died

“He died as he lived,” Mr. Paterno’s family said in a statement. “He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been.”

News of Mr. Paterno’s death Sunday morning touched off an outpouring of grief and admiration on the Penn State campus in State College. Hundreds flocked to a statue of Mr. Paterno at the school’s Beaver Stadium. The base of the statue was decorated with scores of candles, flowers, T-shirts, and blue and white pom-poms. A moment of silence was observed at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., before Penn State’s basketball team played Indiana University.

The specter of Mr. Paterno’s failing health had loomed over the campus throughout the weekend. Inaccurate reports of his death began surfacing Saturday night, fueled by an incorrect report posted on a school student Web site, Onward State. That report went viral, spread by social media and picked up by a number of national news organizations, which later issued corrections.

Mr. Paterno’s ascent, followed by his sudden firing at age 84, formed one of the most tragic narratives in modern athletic history and constitutes something of a conflicted legacy. He was the most successful head coach in the history of major college football, but the circumstances of his dismissal led to a stain both on the football program and the man who ran it for so long.

LaVar Arrington, a former standout player at Penn State, gave his thoughts on the passing of the coaching legend:

People have been asking about my feelings on this weekend’s passing of Joe Paterno. My phone has not stopped ringing with requests for interviews about Joe.

I know this will be a very long week for me. In a blog entry I posted after his last interview, I pretty much said my piece about my relationship with him and my thoughts on how he handled the scandal.

I really thought I would wake up angry and upset today, ready to fight against what I feel took Coach down that final road of no return, but I didn't. Instead of gearing up to lash out and let my emotions get the best of me for the second time, I actually woke up feeling a great deal of peace.

I began recounting so many times I heard that loud distinctive voice directing and teaching. I started envisioning all the funny little moments, like when I use to smack Joe on the behind at team meetings and say, “Good day to be a Nittany Lion coach!”

I remember the pregame speeches. Boy could he deliver a pregame speech. There are so many moments yesterday evening and this morning that I'm recounting about my time at school with him.

I remember one time he sent for me to come to his office. At the time that was a scary invite, and I was right; my grades had started to slip after I became a “superstar” and he got into me pretty good about it.

The reason why I feel peace about Joe's passing, is because all that Joe was is what I represent today and will pass on to my children.

Services will be held for Paterno at Penn State as well as a private funeral. Officials at the Westboro Baptist Church have said they plan to picket the funeral. As Cindy Boren reported:

Joe Paterno will be honored in services over the next three days in State College, Pa., and there will not be an absence of controversy.

A public viewing for Paterno, the legendary former Penn State coach who died Sunday at 85, will be held from 1-11 p.m. Tuesday at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the Penn State campus. Another viewing will be held from 8 a.m. until noon Wednesday, with a private funeral scheduled for 2 p.m. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Jordan Center, the basketball arena next to Beaver Stadium.

Officials of the Westboro Baptist Church intend to protest, according to the daughter of the church’s pastor, and bring their anti-homosexuality message to State College. The church has targeted services for Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs, as well as military funerals.

Margie Phelps tweeted that “WBC will picket his funeral,” adding, “He’s in hell. Don’t partake of your neighbor’s sin!”

More on Joe Paterno from Washington Post Sports

Joe Paterno’s final interview with Sally Jenkins

Jenkins: Let others decide the record he leaves

Photos: Joe Paterno’s career

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