Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach, died on Sunday, his family announced in a statement to the media. The announcement followed hours of sometimes erroneous speculation about Paterno's failing health, and shortly after The Washington Post reported that Paterno was on a ventilator, with family and friends gathering at his bedside.
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Paterno was 85, and had battled lung cancer.
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The Associated Press reported Sunday morning that the Paterno family had confirmed the coach's death, and the confirmation immediately lit up Twitter. Just hours earlier, a previous, false report that Paterno had died was picked up by major news outlets, but quickly denied by the Paterno family. This time, they have confirmed the death.
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The Washington Post, which published a lengthy interview with Paterno one week ago, his first since the explosion of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal forced his ouster and added a permanent stain to his legendary career, led its news obit with a statement from the Paterno family.
“He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been,” the statement said. “His ambitions were far-reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them.”
The paper also described Paterno's career, and its sad end, as "one of the most tragic narratives in modern athletic history."
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But the scandal that abruptly ended Paterno's career was still fresh. Paterno was fired by Penn State's board of trustees in November, after the indictment of Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who is accused of raping and abusing young boys, including one victim he allegedly assaulted in a Penn State football facility. The fallout from the indictment doomed Paterno's career. While he was not accused of any crime, Paterno and other Penn State officials appeared slow to act to stop obvious signs — including eyewitness accounts of assault — that Sandusky was preying on boys.
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In his long interview with the Post, Paterno pleads confusion and misunderstanding about what he had heard of Sandusky's behavior, and says he believed that he had discharged his responsibilities in reporting the coach to higher-ranking authorities. But just a week before he died, Paterno added a note of regret. "In hindsight," he said, "I wish I had done more."
The Post has also released some audio clips from Paterno's final interviews with Sally Jenkins: