There is a brilliant writer -- certainly one of my favorites -- named Joe Posnanski and I've thought about him a lot in the last month. It all started when he left his home in Kansas City in the late summer to live in quaint State College, Penn., for a football season. My goodness, who could have ever predicted what a football season this one would be at now-ravaged Penn State?
The reason Joe left his wife and family was to write a book, a biography on the winningest college football coach of all time -- an 84-year-old named Joe Paterno. Understand, Posnanski is a Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated and he admits, "I am getting paid a sizable amount of money to do so, some of which I plan to donate to the charity of (Paterno's) choice, some of which I plan to keep. I have been working on this book, on and off, speed bumps and traffic jams, for a couple of years now."
So imagine, if you will, the tumult and agony the past four weeks have been for him, how he must have felt just yesterday when alleged child molester Jerry Sandusky delivered a four-hour interview in The New York Times, and how his emotions and psyche will be buffeted even more in the coming weeks when those associated with what is believed to be the worst scandal in the history of college athletics begin to appear in court.
Joe is an award-winning writer, one who was granted privy to the inner workings of Penn State's Nittany Lion family, when heart-wrenching chaos came at an unexpected gallop on Nov. 5. He shared some of his anguish in the Nov. 10 issue of Sports Illustrated. Allow me to share some tear-stained excerpts:
* * *
"The last week has torn me up emotionally. This doesn't matter, of course. All that matters are the victims of the horrible crimes allegedly committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. I cannot say that enough times.
"Sometimes, I feel like the last week or so there has been a desperate race among commentators and others to prove that they are MORE against child molesting than anyone else. That makes me sick. We're all sickened. We're all heartbroken. We're all beyond angry, in a place of rage where nothing seems real. The other day, I called it 'howling.' I meant that in the purest sense of the word -- crying in pain."
* * *
"I've already said that my emotions don't matter here, that they are nothing like what the victims went through, but for the purposes of this essay I'll tell you them anyway: I've been wrecked the last week.
"Writing a book comes from the soul. It consumes you -- mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all of it. I have thought about Joe Paterno, his strengths, his flaws, his triumphs, his failures, his core, pretty much nonstop for months now. I have talked to hundreds of people about him in all walks of life. I have read 25 or 30 books about him, countless articles. I'm not saying I know Joe Paterno. I'm saying I know a whole lot about him.
"And what I know is complicated. But, beyond complications -- and I really believe this with all my heart -- there's this, and this is exclusively my opinion: Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life."
* * *
"I have seen some things in the last few days that have felt rotten, utterly wrong -- a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill. Joe Paterno has lived a whole life. He has improved the lives of countless people. I know -- I've talked to hundreds of them.
"Almost every day I walk by the library that he and his wife, Sue, built. I walk by the religious center that tries to bring people together, and his name is on the list of major donors. I hear the stories, the countless stories, of the kindnesses that came naturally to him, of the way he stuck with people in their worst moments, of the belief he had that everybody could do a little bit better -- as a football player, as a student, as a human being.
"I'm not going to tell you these stories now, because you can't hear them. Nobody can hear them in the howling."
* * *
As you can now see why Posnanski is such a personal favorite of mine, let me share one more observation from Joe that I believe, in my heart of hearts, to also be true. " … people are complicated and contradictory and mysterious and often bewildering. Good people do bad things, bad people do good things, happy people get lost, lost people become heroes.
"This is the wonderful and depressing and daunting challenge of writing about people. Things don't always make sense. Mistakes are made. Greatness emerges when you don't expect it. There have been thousands of books written about Abraham Lincoln. There will be thousands more. And none of them will ever get him in his entirety."
* * *
It is my bet that the talented Joe Posnanski will come very close to capturing the "real" Joe Paterno in his forth-coming book. I can hardly wait to read it and see how a writer so skilled will weave such a horrific ending into the brilliance of the 60 years Joe Paterno gave his life to Penn State. In the meantime, I think of the daunting task Posnanski must now feel -- his book will be viewed as the consumate chronicle of one of the greatest lives that has ever been known in modern-day sports.
That is not a task to be taken lightly.