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Joe Paterno “Sobbed Uncontrollably” When He Was Fired, And More From Joe Posnanski’s Biography
Paterno, Joe Posnanski’s upcoming biography on late (and as of last November, extremely controversial) Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has caused some controversy of its own over the last few months. Posnanski, even as the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and Paterno lost his job and died of lung cancer two months later, remained more sympathetic to Paterno than most in the media, and he was criticized by some for that.
And as Sandusky was convicted, the Freeh report (which, of course, contained a harsh assessment of Paterno’s conduct, or lack thereof) was released and the NCAA dropped massive sanctions on Penn State but Paterno’s publication date (August 21) remained unchanged, the spotlight on Posnanski’s book intensified. How, some wondered, could Paterno’s entire story be told when such a momentous chapter in the history of the program he built was still playing out? That seemed to be the feeling of Sports Illustrated, which, it was reported last month, passed on running a Paterno excerpt. (Posnanski, for his part, said this in the wake of the Freeh report.)
Not everyone passed on the same opportunity SI had, though – GQ is running an excerpt from Posnanski’s book in its current issue, and published a few snippets from that excerpt online today. You can see more at that link, but here are a few choice moments:
Scott Paterno was the first in the family to understand that the Pennsylvania grand jury presentment that indicted Jerry Sandusky could end his father’s career. This wasn’t surprising; Scott tended to be the most realistic—or cynical, depending on who you asked—in the family.
This is when [PR specialist hired by the Paternos Dan] McGinn learned just how far Paterno’s influence and reputation had fallen. He asked [family adviser Guido] D’Elia for the name of one person on the Penn State board of trustees, just one, whom they could reach out to, to negotiate a gracious ending. D’Elia shook his head.
On Thursday [the day he was fired], Paterno met with his coaches at his house. He sobbed uncontrollably.
So, will any of this change the perception of Posnanski’s book? Well… probably not. For one thing, they’re very brief excerpts from a 416-page book. There’s only so much they (and even the larger excerpt in print) can reveal about the work as a whole. But moreover, the excerpts don’t deal directly with Jerry Sandusky, only the effects of Sandusky’s crimes on Paterno. People are going to want more details about what Paterno did and didn’t do when he heard that Jerry Sandusky was molesting kids, and if the book doesn’t have those, then most readers will likely be left unsatisfied.
The excerpt about Paterno losing influence with the school’s board of trustees might be enlightening, because it would poke a hole in the idea of Paterno being an all-powerful force (i.e. one who could have had the Sandusky allegations handled exactly as he wanted) at the school, at least toward the end of his tenure. And in all likelihood, the book tells Paterno’s story in a compelling fashion. Posnanski’s one of the best writers out there.
But as much as the biography needs to cover Paterno’s entire life and not just begin at the Sandusky scandal, the Sandusky scandal now defines Paterno to a large degree, and the fallout is still happening. The defining book on Paterno needs to cover that scandal, and Paterno’s relationship to it, in some serious detail – and based on the newly-released excerpts, we’re no more certain Paterno is that book than we were before.
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