Posnanski on Paterno

One of my favorite authors of our time is Joe Posnanski.

In my most fervent sports-loving years, he wrote a sports/sports-human-interest column for the Kansas City Star. Almost daily, I read stories he wove about human nature and personalities in sports. He didn’t worry about making friends, but he didn’t seek to make enemies, either. He just called it as he saw it–just what you want a newspaperman to do.

Then, this favorite author wrote a book about one of my lifelong heroes, Buck O’Neil. You should buy it. You should read it. Twice.

A couple of years ago, Joe moved to State College, PA to begin working on a book about Joe Paterno. Late into his research and writing, he observed the adulation and worship of Paterno in late-October and the the first 4 days of November 2011. Then, on November 5, 2011, he watched the entire Paterno world implode.

He had access to all the inner circles and researched the story that changed the direction of his book while dodging the various tornadoes ripping across Penn State. In a few days, his story will be released.

Frankly, I can’t wait.

Hints of the book’s tone are already being disseminated in interviews with Posnanski and columns leading to the book.

“This is the story of a man named Joe Paterno, who in his long life was called moral and immoral, decent and scheming, omniscient and a figurehead, hero and fraud, Saint Joe and the devil. A life, of course, cannot be reduced to a single word, but …”

But … what? That was my book. There was the bloated superhero of Nov. 4, the savage villain of Nov. 5 … and I searched for the human being in the middle. I believe most of us live somewhere in the middle.

I suspect I will never have a more difficult task as a writer — I’ve been told by several authors that no biographer in American history has had a book change so drastically in the course of reporting. I suspect that’s not right, but it is right that I was feeling my way through the dark. I was pushed and pulled, accused and derided, and that wasn’t much fun. There were hundreds of questions, none of them with easy answers. But I had come to write a true book. That was what mattered. I have done my best to do that.

His style is not that of a novelist. Rather, his newspaper roots betray themselves in all of his writing, but that doesn’t denigrate the effectiveness of his words. I hope the same for this upcoming work, and that he holds true to the lessons learned from Buck O’Neil.

More than anything, I hope he continues to ask the questions that most neglect to pose:

Nobody would argue — and certainly my book does not argue — that the good Joe Paterno did in his life should shield him from the horrors of his mistakes. Some would argue, especially in the white-hot emotion sparked by the latest revelations, that Paterno’s role in the Jerry Sandusky crimes invalidates whatever good he might have done. My book does not argue that either. My book, I believe, lets the reader make up his or her own mind. When people ask me if Penn State was right in tearing down Joe Paterno’s statue in light of the Freeh Report’s conclusion, I ask a different question: “Should they have built a statue to him in the first place?” When people ask me if the NCAA was right in unleashing draconian penalties against Penn State, I ask a different question: “Should they have held up Joe Paterno as a paragon of purity and virtue for more than four decades?”

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