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Obituary cartoons: Getting it wrong on Paterno

By Rob Tornoe - Cagle Post

Political cartoonists have a love/hate relationships with obituary cartoons – the cartoons you see in your newspaper or popping up on your Facebook feed after a famous person has died.

Cartoonists tire quickly of the conventions of obituary cartoons – heaven, St. Peter, the pearly gates – while readers can’t seem to get enough of them.

I enjoy drawing obituary cartoons about famous people, as long as I have something to say or the person was important in my life. When Whitney Houston died, I drew her singing while trapped inside of a prescription pill bottle. When Maurice Sendak passed away, I drew a middle-aged working man rummaging through a box of his childhood dreams.

And when Joe Paterno died, I tapped into the massive amount of sympathy and heartache throughout the region and drew the nice cartoon below for the Philadelphia Inquirer (where I draw sports cartoons) of Paterno sharing space in heaven with legendary Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The cartoon was enormously popular, and spread across Facebook like a wildfire. My inbox was stuffed with thank you notes and warm wishes from Penn State alums across the country. Someone even printed it out and put it on display next to Paterno’s statue as a tribute. And you know something – I was wrong.


With the release of the Freeh report, it’s clear to anyone but his kids that Paterno, along with other top Penn State officials, covered up the child sex abuse allegations against assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky out of fear of bad publicity.

Covered up child rape. For more than a decade. So it wouldn’t harm the football team. I’m not a religious person, but this man doesn’t belong in heaven.

So I have the opportunity not too many cartoonists are afforded – to redress my mistake, to call myself out for taking part in a pity party for someone who decided that a child’s well being was only valuable if they were wearing his team’s football uniform.

So like Mitt Romney and Bain, I’ve retroactively updated my obituary cartoon and redrawn it to expel Paterno from paradise and send him plummeting downward. Like Sandusky in prison, Paterno is now in a place that knows how to deal with people who allow children to be raped.

If Penn State had any decency, they would immediately tear down Paterno’s famous statue outside of Beaver Stadium, along with the three words that accompany it: Educator, coach and humanitarian. Even Nike finally removed Paterno’s name from their child development center in Oregon.

But judging by their previous decision making, it seems like the folks running things in Happy Valley still have a lot to learn. I’ve made my mistake in cartoon form, and addressed it. It’s time for them to do the same.

Rob Tornoe draw sports cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe