Paterno family: 'Joe continuing to fight'

Story highlights

  • Son says support is "inspiring" Paterno
  • Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno suffering from lung cancer
  • He was fired over handling of sex abuse claims against former assistant
  • Students light candles near Paterno statue
Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who has been treated for lung cancer and a broken pelvis, is in serious condition, a family spokesman said Saturday, rejecting reports the football legend had died.
The family was upset about the reports, a source close to them said. Relatives said Paterno, 85, was able to communicate Saturday night.
"I appreciate the support & prayers," the coach's son, Jay, said in a tweet. "Joe is continuing to fight."
Jay and his brother, Scott, sent tweets saying a report their father had died were "wrong."
At least one of the websites reporting Paterno had died apologized for the error.
Devon Edwards, managing editor of Onward State, which says it is a student-run media organization, wrote on its Facebook page: "To the Penn State community and to the Paterno family most of all, I could not be more sorry for the emotional anguish I am sure we caused. There are no excuses for what we did. We all make mistakes, but it's impossible to brush off one of this magnitude." Edwards wrote he was stepping down.
Paterno is being treated at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pennsylvania, where members of the media were told to leave.
"Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications. His doctors have now characterized his status as serious," family spokesman Dan McGinn said. "His family will have no comment on the situation and asks that their privacy be respected during this difficult time."
The coach was fired in November amid the outcry over the handling of accusations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who faces more than 50 counts involving sexual acts with 10 boys since 1994. Sandusky has pleaded not guilty.
The family previously said Paterno had a treatable form of cancer. In December, he was admitted to a hospital after fracturing his pelvis when he slipped and fell at his home in State College.
Well-wishers turned to social media sites Saturday evening.
"Sending my prayers to Joe and his family! Love you with all my Nittany heart!" one Facebook commenter said.
Students concerned about Paterno's health shoveled snow near his statue on the campus near Beaver Stadium and lighted candles, according to CNN Altoona affiliate WTAJ.
Jay Paterno, in a tweet late Saturday, said he drove by the statue. "Just told my Dad about all the love & support -- inspiring him."
Under Paterno's 46-year leadership, the Nittany Lions won two national championships, went undefeated five times and finished in the top 25 national rankings 35 times, according to his official Penn State biography.
At the time of Paterno's dismissal, Vice Chairman of Trustees John P. Surma said he hoped the school's 95,000 students and hundreds of thousands of alumni would believe the decision "is in the best long-term interest of the university, which is much larger than athletic programs."
Paterno earlier this month told the Washington Post he felt inadequate to deal with the initial allegation of abuse against Sandusky.
"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," Paterno told the Post. "So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."
The former coach spoke with a raspy voice during the interview -- Paterno's first extensive sit-down since being fired.
A Penn State graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, told the grand jury late last year that he had seen Sandusky "with a boy in the shower and that it was severe sexual acts going on and that it was wrong and over the line." He said he had gone to Paterno with what he saw.
Paterno said he'd never been told the graphic details revealed in a grand jury report, but that he nevertheless reported the allegations to his boss, then-Athletic Director Tim Curley.
Curley and Gary Schultz, a former university vice president, have been charged with perjury and failure to report the abuse allegations, which law enforcement did not learn about for several years. They have pleaded not guilty.
"You know, he didn't want to get specific," Paterno said about McQueary. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it," he told the Washington Post.
"I called my superiors and I said, 'Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?' Because I didn't know, you know ... I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn't feel adequate," Paterno said.