As news of Joe Paterno’s diminishing health spread rapidly throughout social media sites and news networks, members of the Penn State community headed up to Beaver Stadium to honor their beloved Coach.
At around 8:00 p.m., students and alumni began to gather around the Joe Paterno statue, a shrine dedicated to the triumphs and success of Penn State’s former head football coach of 46 years. A handful of students worked diligently to shovel away the freshly fallen snow from its base while photographers and reporters flooded onto the scene.
What started off as a small group of about 40 people soon turned into a crowd of thousands. One by one, supporters placed candles and flowers at the statue’s feet along with PSU memorabilia, letters and posters that read “Thank You, Joe” and “We Love You JoePa.” No matter how many times the brisk winter breeze blew out the candles, students and alumni were persistent at relighting each one to keep the flames alive. Aside from the emotional singing of the Alma Mater, the crowd remained silent, glued to their twitter feeds waiting for an update; a sign of hope.
Rumors regarding Paterno’s health had been developing all afternoon, but given the recent events surrounding the Sandusky Scandal, students were reluctant to believe anything until it was confirmed by a reliable source.
By 9:00 p.m., students arriving at the statue claimed local radio stations and news outlets confirmed Paterno had died. What was already an emotional atmosphere immediately shifted to heartbreak as supporters fought to hold back tears. In disbelief, many resorted to twitter to look for confirmation, thus sparking what would soon turn into a series of unfortunate headlines.
The first outlet to report Joe Paterno had passed away was Penn State’s own Onward State. It wasn’t long before national media outlets, including CBS Sports and the Associated Press, began publishing ‘confirmed’ reports that Paterno had died as well, citing Onward State as their source.
By 9:30 p.m., the candlelight vigil was no longer in honor of, but in memory of Joseph Vincent Paterno.
Students grasped each other for support and comfort, eyes glistening with tears and noses sniffling from the cold night air. Alumni told stories and reminisced, reassuring each other that his legacy will live on. Everyone stood numb, partially because it was below freezing, but mainly because this was the day we all knew would come, but were nowhere near prepared for. Once again, however, the mood soon changed, except this time from heartbreak to confusion.
Around 10:00, a community shattered by the news of Paterno’s death took a quick sigh of relief, followed by frustration, after both Jay and Scott Paterno confirmed via twitter that their father, Joe Paterno, was actually still alive. What was an emotional, and peaceful atmosphere evolved into controlled chaos as both supporters and media personnel tried to comprehend the contradicting information.
The backlash from the fabricated reports came almost instantly. The Media had killed Joe Pa too soon. Managing Editor of Onward State, Devon Edwards, took full responsibility for the site’s false reports and announced that effective immediately, he would be stepping down from his duties. The hashtag #CBSSportsSays became a trending topic, mimicking erroneous headlines twitter users felt were equivalent to the Paterno reports.
As if contradicting national headlines weren’t enough, reports for local sports reporters said Penn State football players were informed via e-mail that Paterno had died, which was also false. Current Nittany Lions DaQuan Jones, Anthony Alosi, Khairi Fortt, Nate Cadogan and PJ Jones all confirmed that as of 10:00 p.m., they had yet to receive any information from the coaching staff or athletics regarding Paterno’s condition.
Within a matter of 2 hours, supporters of Joe Paterno had experienced a fluctuation of emotions and were left with no answers. Since Jay and Scott Paterno’s tweets, no other statements regarding Paterno’s status have been issued from a family member or reliable source. Until then, those who love and Support Coach Paterno will wait…
“Publicity is like poison; it doesn’t hurt unless you swallow it.”