Less than three months after legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was forced out because of a sex abuse scandal that allegedly involved one of his former top assistants, he lost his battle with lung cancer and passed away. It’s no secret that the much-loved, highly revered and, of late, deeply criticized coach and “face” of Penn State had a very tough last few months. USA Today columnist and therapist Stacy Kaiser believes the intense stress Paterno was under may have played an important factor in his death.

As Kaiser writes, Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer previously, and he appeared to be managing the illness well and in generally good health. However, she writes, all of the stress Paterno had been under lately could have impacted him physically:

“It is my opinion, the stress from the child sex-abuse scandal, his rise and fall from grace in the eyes of some of his former supporters and the loss of his lifelong career all contributed to his quick physical decline and even his death. The fact is, intense levels of stress and/or strong emotions do more than just impact our minds, they impact our bodies as well. Our immune systems can be lowered, our heart and pulse rates can elevate and we can lose the strength and endurance our bodies had before the stressful experience. Whether you like Paterno or not, he was under a great deal of stress and emotional turmoil and that undoubtedly hurt his physical and emotional wellbeing. This could cause depression or anger to be directed inward and would also impact one’s immune function.”

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Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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