Don’t Look Too Closely

This is a terrific, dry-eyed assessment of what Joe Paterno was, good and bad. None of us are wholly good or wholly bad. But when someone is given as much influence and authority as Joe Paterno wielded in State College Pennsyvania, there’s always a danger that the myth will eclipse the reality.

It turns out there was plenty more bad than most people wanted to hear.

I don’t know how carefully you have been following the revelations of the emails that show a pattern of cover-up and deception in the top leadership of Penn State, but it’s plenty damning.

A story in Esquire provides some very interesting circumstantial evidence too.

After the incident in 1998 when a mother permitted two State College detectives to eavesdrop in another room when she confronted and accused Jerry Sandusky of molesting her son which resulted in some damning admissions and apologies, some curious things happened.

Joe Paterno was known to be a very methodical man, someone who kept appointments and never cancelled them. But one week after those detectives overheard Sandusky’s admissions, JoePa cancelled a recruiting trip and a fundraising meeting. Then he cancelled a planned family vacation. Not long after that, the State College Police decided there was no cause to continue the investigation, and shortly thereafter, Sandusky resigned.

Now what you don’t know is for the entire year, JoePa did not cancel a single recruiting trip and he never cancelled a fundraiser. There are no notes in his daily appointment diary, only records that those events were cancelled. Shortly after the police dropped their investigation, JoePa's schedule returned to normal.

It’s pretty remarkable that someone of Sandusky’s stature in college football did not get a single offer to coach anywhere else. Recently it was revealed confidentially that some athletic directors made inquiries about Sandusky and immediately lost interest in him. What’s more, Penn State President Graham Spanier told a long-time friend, when asked about Sandusky’s retirement, “he's retiring for a good reason but I can’t talk about it.”

It’s pretty sad to find out your heroes have feet of clay. My old friend Brian and I have never had harsh words in over 16 years. He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. (Yes, the same Reading as in the Monopoly Reading Railroad. We always pronounced it like you read a book, but it’s actually “RED-ing.”) Although he’s a Phillies and Eagles fan and my loyalties are to the Giants and the 49ers (after the Red Sox and Patriots of course), we speak affably of our teams during their respective seasons, regardless of which is doing better.

Brian spent more than 100 weekends attending Penn State games. Some of his earliest memories with his parents and uncles were attending those games. His family planned vacations around bowl games, and although none of them attended PSU, they were like Alabama and Auburn supporters and Nebraska loyalists; you’d never know nobody in his family attended PSU

It’s hard to see a friend in pain like this; striking out like a wounded lion, mildly angry and hurt when I confront him with these stories. To him, this is the grown-up equivalent of finding out Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny don’t exist, without the sarcasm. It would have been the same kind of hurt if he’d found Randall Cunningham french-kissing his wife.

I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t drop this subject earlier, when I should have. Let someone tear the rose-colored glasses off his face. Let someone else drag him from the bottom of the cave where he mistook shadows for reality into the cleansing but painful sunlight.

From now on, it will be someone else.


Remembering Dee Forsythe

Please excuse the disjointed nature of this remembrance. I take little side trips but I promise you, it’s worth the ride.

Earlier this week, I got a call from a mutual friend, Brian Youngerman, a lawyer who writes a weekly newsletter about sports with a slightly unusual take, sometimes about sports business and sports law.

Dee had “introduced” the two of us on AOL. Sometime in the 90s she found me there when I wrote about my family’s love for the Red Sox and how it’s in my blood. Brian had a forum about sports and did a Tuesday night chat. She thought Brian and I had the same sensibilities. She didn't do the chats, but she liked Brian’s writing.

Long after the chats ended, Brian continues with his newsletter each Thursday evening. He said he started writing last night and as he typed It's, he stopped.

That’s when it hit him. Besides commenting and an occasional “Attaboy,” one of the things Dee would do from time to time was drop him a teasing note correcting his It’s with the apostrophe when it should have been Its without, because he meant the possessive, not the contraction of It is.

I had to explain to him that she wasn't a grammar nazi, although I knew he didn’t take it that way. She corrected him because he was a lawyer, for crying out loud, with a master's degree in law and another in business. You’re no dummy, Brian, she was tacitly saying. You should know better.

It wasn't so much as a scowl or even a scold. It was more of a sad shaking of the head. Besides, Brian, you’re not the only one. Because I, too, had been a copy editor, she would sometimes reply to my emails with not only her response, but also my gaffes highlighted in red type. Again, her intent was not to belittle me but to say, “Kenner (that was her name for me), you’re better than this."

Yet in the short back and forth replies which sometimes resembled two jazz musicians riffing, anything goes and she would adopt a slangy, familiar tone.

I will miss her not out of grief, but her actual presence in my life, although we’ve never laid eyes on each other.

Deidre Giles Forsythe grew up a golfer, from almost the time she could walk, because her grandfather, Elmer Giles, was a minor league ballplayer who later went on to a career as an early golf course designer and architect. He took her around with him on the course, gave her her first set of clubs, and her love of the game lasted until the end. She and I talked often about how disappointed she was with Tiger Woods off the course, and how Rory McIlroy – who she’d dubbed “Our Lad” – could thrill and crush us on the course, sometimes in the same round. (The US Open is next weekend in San Francisco, and I wanted to get his autograph and a picture with him for her.)

We shared our love of the Red Sox and baseball, although I could never convince her of the value of the SABRmetrics, the esoteric stats used in an attempt to quantify and compare players of different eras. Unlike some, she did accept the validity of WAR, also known as Wins Above Replacement (player), which is used to measure a player’s overall value which is used for comparisons. Once I told her the replacement player was the same as the legendary “player to be named later,” she grokked it.

(She and my mother were much more involved with the Patriots and Celtics than I was, but I enjoyed them through her eyes.)

That was another thing, grok. That was one of her favorite words. It came from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and the first time I used it, she remembered it and it became part of our lexicon.

[One of the things I liked best about her was I could use my entire vocabulary. I could say lexicon,sobriquet, and algorithm.]

Where was I... The wall clock above this desk is a large, circular Red Sox logo which she sent me, disarming my protests by saying, “CVS marked 'em down."

We loved black and white movies, particularly screwball comedies and romances. We’d give each other heads-ups when we noticed an old favorite was coming up on Turner Classics.

But she also liked the newer ones, particularly the Meg Ryan pictures such as When Harry Met Sally, and You’ve Got Mail. (By the way, when I asked her if she recognized the plot of You’ve Got Mail, she remembered the Van Johnson and Judy Garland musical, In the Good Ole Summertime, but did not remember the original, Ernst Lubitsch’s black and white The Shop Around the Corner, which starred a callow and lanky Jimmy Stewart. Once reminded, though, she said, “Oh, that’s why Meg Ryan’s bookstore in You’ve Got Mail is called “The Shop Around the Corner.")

Not long after we got to know each other well, I teased her. “You’ve got to find me someone just like you, only 25 years younger!”

Dee revelled in my small successes and sympathized with my bigger failures, and was patient and understanding when I would overstep the line with a joke that was too coarse, and she gently pulled me up when my depression took me down the rabbit hole.

One of my early triumphs was when I became the chief proofreader and copy editor for the bimonthly Creative Screenwriting magazine. We used to talk about how the barely capable Erik, the Managing Editor, would drive me crazy by waiting seven weeks before sending the copy to pore over with only 72 hours to finish. When I had had enough of Erik, I passed the job on to her, and now it was my turn to listen to her complain about his precarious management style.

I will think of her every day. I am surrounded by things she gave me or sold me including this very Powerbook, which was dead but she told me I could have if I thought I could make it breathe again.

Dee was a photography nut who never went anywhere without her camera. She resisted an iPhone (and only grudgingly carried a mobile, for emergencies) but was seriously contemplating getting an iPad, once she saw the quality of the images and screen. Every couple of years or so, she’d decide to replace her camera. Two cameras ago she sold me the Canon Powershot I use now.

Starting a few years ago, Dee began constructing a calendar for her family and friends, which she sent out to us as Christmas presents. For some of us, there was an actual, spiral-bound, one month per side calendar, which I am looking at now.

She began selecting images in late Summer. Her first efforts were the historic homes of North Andover. Then she turned her attention to extreme close-ups of flowers, and her last two or three were all flowers.

But long after this Powerbook gives up the ghost and the Canon gets abandoned for an iPad; when the objects she sold or gave me are gone, I will remember her.

I will remember her when a Red Sox player from the 67 team dies and when the players from the 2004 and 2007 World Championship teams begin to grace the Hall of Fame.

I'll remember her whenever I have to rewrite a sentence because I’ve crammed too many clauses into it like an overstuffed sausage.

I’ll remember her when Danica Patrick wins her first NASCAR race.

I'll remember her when I look at the picture of my eight year-old nephew in his catcher’s gear, which she Photoshopped into a little baseball card.

I'll remember her each time “Our Lad” Rory McIlroy wins a major.

I'll remember her each year at MacWorld, and on the day when I finally get my first iPad, and also, how thrilled she was for me when I told her a few minutes ago I’d just met Steve Jobs at MacWorld.

I'll remember her the next time Brian Youngerman types it's instead of its.

I'll remember her the next time I make boiled New England supper of corned beef and cabbage, and how much she loved knowing that I must put parsnips and turnips in it because that’s how Mom made it.

I'll remember her every time I reread a Robert B. Parker Spenser, Jesse Stone, or Sunny Randall detective mystery, and wonder what she would make of the new writers who are continuing each series.

I'll remember her when I recite Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” each year on the Winter Solstice (which was “the darkest evening of the year") because she shared her birthday with him, and had the joy of sitting at his feet when he recited that poem in the class taught by John Holmes, who was one of Frost’s students. (She loved the blog article The Power of Ritual I wrote about the poem.)

I will remember her every time I have to parenthetically define a word or explain who Duke Ellington or Philip Marlowe was because aside from my mother and my late friend Angelo, she was the only one who got 99% of my references!

I will remember how kind and consoling she was when my Mother died, and how much I regretted that these two hard core Red Sox fans had never met. And I will remember how subtly she slid into being my surrogate mother, my conscience. (She sometimes signed her emails “D a Cricket” because I told her sometimes I can hear her whispering wise thoughts in my ear like Jiminy Cricket.)

Most of all, though, I will remember and will always be grateful to her for the way she treated my Auntie Ming, who was of her generation but a late adopter to technology. Dee gave us a great deal on another of her cast-off computers, again a Powerbook, and after I set it up for Auntie, Dee became her steadfast cyber Sacajawea, guiding her through the technological thicket which sometimes frustrated my Aunt. Because they were of the same generation and nearly the same age, Auntie felt much more at ease asking her elementary questions about how things worked, and Dee patiently explained.

I will miss her more than grieve for her. Until she fell sick and her energy would be taxed by having to compose and then type an email, some days we’d exchange as many as eight or nine short and long emails about some newsworthy event, an article from The Atlantic, last night’s Red Sox game or some lineup crisis.

When she went into treatment last month, I began compiling a list of stories and things to tell her once she got well. I'd just read James Garner’s autobiography and was dying to tell her the putting tip he’d gotten from Gary Player. (Close your eyes. Once you’ve looked at the green, measured the distance, address the ball and close your eyes as you strike. Trust your ability.) I’d had dinner with Maxine Hong Kingston! I was prepared for it to be mostly a monologue to entertain her until she regained her strength. Just this weekend there were three or four stories and sports events, not the least of which was Rory McIlroy’s second missed cut in a row and Tiger Woods miraculous chip on 16 at the Colonial which he holed for a birdie. We would have discussed the words in the National Spelling Bee, and how the Celtics were mounting a comeback.

Now I really do have to do a monologue.

Rest well, Dee.

And now I can hear her saying, That was beautiful, Kenner, but it was tooo long. :-)

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Ben Youngerman, aka “The Utility Man”

A few years ago, my oldest and best friend from the Internet, Brian Youngerman, started bragging about his nephew, Ben Youngerman.

Hoping to follow in Bob's footsteps
Ben was in high school in Pennsylvania then. He acted in the school plays, sang in the glee club, played baseball and basketball, and got excellent grades as well.

Mind you, every uncle knows his duty is to brag unceasingly about how incredible his nephew or niece is compared with everyone else’s. I know because I brag about Megan, Mike, and Pete. However in my case, I’m right and everyone else is mistaken.

More than once, Brian told me that Ben’s ambition was to become a sports announcer. He attended that great sports broadcasting incubator, Syracuse University, alma mater of Bob Costas, Len Berman, and dozens of other household names.

(I knew a little bit about radio. Emphasis on the “little.” My BA is in Radio-TV-Film and I had a tiny bit of success creating and producing one of the first nationally syndicated technology radio programs for public radio. But I didn't have the fire in me that Ben did.)

During the academic year, he called Syracuse basketball, baseball, and football games. When he wasn't behind the mic, he was singing in the men’s acapella group or entertaining fans during the TV time-outs as Otto the Orange. My Instant Messenger window would pop up and the proud uncle would urge me: “Turn on ESPN NOW!”

AOL IM: “Turn on ESPN NOW!”
During the summers, he served internships to soak up as much experience as he could. Those internships gave way to paid gigs calling A-ball games in Pennsylvania and summer league games in Alaska, doing both the radio and TV play-by-play and pre- and post-game interviews. He even got to sing the National Anthem before some games!

This time the IM windows would have the link to the Internet radio stream from Alaska. He was a bit green, but I could hear the knowledge and passion he got from his father and uncle, and I knew with just a few seasons of polish, he'd be ready for the Show.

As he added lines to an already fat résumé, he learned to juggle, emcee events, and perform stand-up comedy. He's a natural entertainer, and his biggest dilemma is choosing which path to follow.

Along the way, Ben and Brian met Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic. Inside that green pantomime character breathed the heart of a mensch, and several times over the years Dave gave Ben lots of encouragement and some very wise career advice.

In December, their paths crossed again at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings. Ben was there trying to score a couple of minor league residencies and to schmooze. This time, he surprised Dave with a new persona: “The Utility Man”, a jack-of-all-trades shtick as a vendor, groundskeeper, usher, bat boy, umpire, and some unconventional personas including the “The Phantom of the Ballpark.” Dave was surprised and encouraged Ben to call him if he could help.

Dave’s most recent advice was to be confident in his talent and not to sell himself cheaply. It was great, because when you're his age and still unsure of yourself, to get a pat on the back from one of the giants in the field washes away a lot of doubt.

This young man is on the brink of a wonderful and rich career. What shape his nascent career will take is not yet clear, but what is clear that his combination of talent and passion and ambition will take him to the top.


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