Sunday, January 22, 2012


I read this morning on Yahoo that Joe Paterno had passed.

Besides making me think about this great coach who, annually, took his team to prestigious games and won some remarkable games--(beating Miami when they were loaded in 1987 stands out)--I am thinking this morning about the connections between emotional and physical health.

We know from nothing about so much. Who would have predicted ten years ago that I could be typing on a machine without a wire and will be able to, whenever I so choose, broadcast my words to whoever anywhere on the Globe is interested in reading what I write. One hundred years ago who could have imagined phenomena we take for granted: air travel, television, superhighways, youtube.

Joe Paterno, aka JoePa to his supporters which numbered hundreds of thousands, was abruptly fired during the middle of this past football season. Tarnished not because of his own deeds, but because an associate has been accused of being a pedophile. According to detractors Paterno reported this only internally and should have done more to arrest the behavior of his associate.

It is difficult for me to imagine that one could work with another for ten years and not be aware of someone's predatory habits. Yet I have heard stories about couples who are astounded to discover something about their sleeping partners that is shocking and reprehensible. So maybe it is not beyond possibility that Paterno did not know of his associate's alleged behavior.

His awareness, however, may be peripheral to the point I make here. Within three months of being ignominiously removed from a post that he had held for forty years, Joe Paterno is dead. Reports indicate that he died of cancer. Earlier reports, though, suggested that the cancer that he had was minor and that he was being treated effectively for it. Of course, cancers can escalate unpredictably. I wonder, though, if what brought on Paterno's sudden demise was the emotional jolt he has endured over the last weeks. Once respected and exalted by all, he now--in some circles at least--has been criticized as being a tacit enabler.

What kinds of infections can emotional jolts exacerbate or create? My non medical opinion is that very significant physical trauma can be fueled by emotional distress. Emotional bruising does not just make an illness worse; it creates the physiological distress. We have all heard of psychogenic illnesses but these seem to suggest that emotional distress created a vulnerability which allowed carcinogens or some other infection to gain purchase. Makes sense, but in the same way that cell phones were inconceivable during the mid 20th century, I would not be surprised if in the mid 21st a blow like the one that Paterno endured would be acknowledged as not only what accelerated an illness but an insult that begat that illness.

I never met Joe Paterno, but whatever I have read suggests that he was a man who had earned the love that fans sent his way. To have some of that disappear, and to have in its place the sense that perhaps others were considering him in an antithetical light could have been the cause of his abrupt decline. He deserved better.

1 comment:

  1. Paterno's body and spirit had to be effected by the mass of negativity directed at him. Tonite I was reading about the demise -no pun intended- of Demi Moore. I don't follow Hollywood characters, but my Yahoo home page always shows Demi looking skinnier, more exhausted, and now more depraved. On whippets of all things. Though not a big fan of her like I was of Joe, it is sad & alarming to see this car wreck happening in front of you. Just look around to see the relevancy as your blogs points out, to how a battered soul leads to a battered failing body.