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.



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