Ken Denlinger, 1942–2015

October 6, 2015 at 11:07 am Leave a comment

Ahead of the 1988 season, when a sports writer from the Washington Post, Ken Denlinger ’64, approached Joe Paterno with the idea of following a class of recruits from start to finish—with unfettered access for five years—and writing a book about their experiences in the larger context of big-time college football, the coach said one thing.

Upon the book’s publication in 1994, Paterno revealed:

“I said, ‘Ken, I want it honest. I don’t want it to be one way or the other. I want it honest. I want it to be a book that somebody could pick up and understand just a little bit, have a little better insight as to what these kids have to go through.’ And from what I understand, Ken’s written an honest book.”

For his part, Denlinger found the experience to be “wonderful,” mostly because of the diverse class of athletes profiled in For the Glory, which chronicles the lives of the 28 players recruited to Penn State in 1988, among them Tony Sacca, O.J. McDuffie, John Gerak, Greg Huntington, and Todd Burger.

Denlinger died Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

In his 18-year career at the Post, starting as a reporter in 1965 then as a columnist from 1976, Denlinger covered every major sporting event from the Super Bowl and World Series to the Olympic Games and the Triple Crown of horse racing. He developed a reputation for not being intimidated by power, whether it be in the form of institution or a coach. Athletes for Sale, a 1975 book he co-authored, was based on a series of investigative articles for the newspaper that detailed the unseemly way college basketball recruited high school athletes.

In a fond tribute to his former colleague, award-winning sports writer John Feinstein recalls:

“Anyone who got mad at Ken Denlinger … was mad at the wrong guy. He could be tough when he needed to be in print, but there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. He was a wonderful reporter, a superb columnist, a mentor to a slew of young writers at The Post and — more than anything — a loving husband, father, grandfather and, as he loved to tell us all, a proud great-grandfather.”

His book on Penn State, Denlinger said, came about due to his relationship with Paterno, who he had known since his days working at the Daily Collegian, and his desire to examine the university’s footprint on the college football landscape. The journal Kirkus Reviews described it as “a thoughtful and compelling book” that “is neither a bronzing of Paterno nor a whitewash of college sports. Given the trajectories of the young men he covered, that would be impossible.”

Denlinger died at his home in Frederick, Md. He was 74.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

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