Posts tagged ‘Joe Posnanski’

The Penn Stater Daily — Nov. 20, 2013

Paterno movie update: Jessica Tully of Onward State checked in with David McKenna, the screenwriter for a planned biopic on Joe Paterno based on the book by Joe Posnanski. There’s still no timeline. There’s still no casting update, although Al Pacino is still apparently slated to play Paterno. McKenna said he had admired Paterno growing up, since he’d watched Penn State’s 48-14 victory over Pitt in 1981. Said McKenna: “I vividly remember asking myself ‘Who’s that little Italian guy with the glasses on the sideline?’ Well, let’s just say I was hooked after that.”

Married on campus: It shouldn’t surprise anyone that when Buzzfeed decided to do a list of “insanely beautiful colleges you can get married at,” Penn State made the list. I don’t think the photos do this place justice, though. Old Main is a great venue, but I can’t believe Buzzfeed couldn’t find wedding party photos from the gardens outside my office at the Hintz Family Alumni Center or at the Arboretum. Photos like those might have put Penn State higher than No. 13.

Income gap widening: Economists in the College of Agricultural Sciences released a report Tuesday that’s sobering for residents of Pennsylvania: the state lost 16,000 jobs from 2001 to 2011, and the economists also found what Ted Alter, professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics, called “major shift in employment from higher to lower wage industries.” Ted Fuller, development economist in the college’s Center for Economic and Community Development, noted that “this loss of high-middle wage jobs–through recent cyclical ups and downs alike–probably does not bode well for the Pennsylvania economy.” You can read the Penn State news release by clicking here or check out the full report at this link.

Trumka celebrates Lincoln: And if you’ve not yet digested enough coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which was Tuesday, you should check this out: Richard Trumka ’71, president of the AFL-CIO,  participated in a project by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and PBS in which celebrities recited the Gettysburg Address. His reading clocks in at 1 minute, 51 seconds. It’s a genius speech, so it’s always worth your time to listen.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

November 20, 2013 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

A Profile of Bill O’Brien, and Other Good Reads

I just finished reading Pete Thamel’s excellent profile of new Penn State football coach BIll O’Brien in today’s New York Times. You really should check it out if you haven’t already.

It’s not the first profile to address the role that O’Brien’s son Jack’s disability plays in the family’s life; among others, our own Ryan Jones ’95 covered that in our July-Aug cover story. Nor is it the first to show that the family’s adversity gives O’Brien a special perspective on the challenges he’s now facing as Penn State’s football coach. But it’s just a very, very good profile. Among other things, I learned that O’Brien’s best friend is Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, and I got a different perspective on O’Brien’s seeming job-hopping over the years before arriving at Penn State.

And it was kinda cool to learn that Patriots coach Bill Belichick (more…)

August 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

First Impressions of ‘Paterno’

Two things to start, before I get into some of the details of Joe Posnanski’s biography of Joe Paterno:

  1. Joe Posnanski had an impossible task.  As he wrote before the book was published this week, he confronted an unprecedented challenge: writing a biography of someone who was suddenly engulfed in a national scandal—one that upended his reputation—and then died a few months later. I can’t imagine a worse scenario for a journalist.
  2. Joe Paterno was a complex, complicated guy—far more so than most of what’s been written about him would suggest. That includes my own work in two stints as a beat writer covering the team, and that’s been true since well before the Sandusky scandal broke. Paterno was tough to get close to.

Posnanski doesn’t shy away from either point. I admire that. (I should also note here that I’ve known Posnanski for years; we’ve shared press boxes and meals and a few jokes together. He’s a good guy.)

But if this isn’t the book Posnanski signed up to write—with the Paterno family’s explicit cooperation—in 2011, it’s also not the definitive account of Paterno’s life. It’s too soon for that book.

There aren’t any blockbuster revelations, and the choicest new details, about Paterno sobbing the day after he was dismissed, about how his family had to force him to read the grand jury presentment, about the “I Hate Jerry Sandusky Memo,” made their way into the media quickly through excerpts.

And, honestly, most of what was in the book, I already knew.

But keep in mind that I covered my first Penn State football game, for The Daily Collegian, in 1988, and that I’ve followed Penn State football and Paterno not only because I love college football and I’m a Penn State alum, but because my job required it. I’ve read every book written about Joe Paterno, even Joe Paterno: The Coach from Byzantium by his brother, George.

Some Penn State fans, I’m sure, will feel the same. This book covers a lot of familiar territory—far more pages are devoted to Paterno’s rise and his glory years than to the Sandusky scandal and aftermath, or even to the down years of the 2000s, which have been less well chronicled and deserve (I could say, need) a more full accounting. Posnanski is a lyrical, poetic writer, and he tells those familiar tales beautifully. He adds a few choice details. I expected nothing less.

The chapter about Rip Engle was terrific; I know a lot less about Engle than I do Paterno, so I found that particularly interesting. (Awesome tidbit: Engle didn’t like to say that a player “cheated” a step or two to one side in anticipation of a play, even though that’s totally legal, so he had players “fudge” instead.) I appreciated the occasional one-liners from Paterno family members, as well, including this gem from Sue, noting that their son David’s engineering aptitude certainly didn’t come from his father: “Joe couldn’t fix a sandwich.”

In State College, even the grocery stores are selling the book.

Posnanski also does an excellent job showing the toll that the pursuit of excellence can take on family life; particularly when Paterno is designing his new defense in the late 1960s, Sue and the kids are on their own.

It does, however, take a long time to get to the new stuff, and those parts of the book aren’t as richly reported. There’s a chapter on Paterno’s relationship with Jerry Sandusky that clearly spells out the differences between the two men and the fact that they weren’t friends; I think this will come as less of a revelation to anyone who’s followed the program closely, but that chapter is a good read. Scott Paterno, son and lawyer, and Guido D’Elia, friend and marketing genius, wrestle with the presentment and its aftermath; anyone who cares about Joe Paterno will be sad as they read those scenes.

Posnanski eventually recounts a conversation between himself and Paterno in which the coach asks for the writer’s take. Posnanski doesn’t let him off the hook; he tells Paterno he should have done more because “you are Joe Paterno. Right or wrong, people expect more from you.” Elsewhere, he writes, “It is certain that no one, Paterno included, was aware enough, courageous enough, or decent enough to stop a man who would be found guilty of forty-five counts of child molestation.”

Most reviews, however, have found Posnanski’s portrayal, as Dwight Garner of the New York Times called it, “breezy and largely sympathetic.” Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News calls it neither a “prosecutor’s brief” nor a “full-throated defense.” Beat writer Mark Wogenrich ’90 of The Morning Call in Allentown provides a great framework for understanding the book using an anecdote about Paterno’s recruitment of John Cappelletti. Guy Cipriano, the new beat writer for the Centre Daily Times, writes that Posnanski “whiffs” on this book because he didn’t make the most of his exclusive access to Paterno, and that’s a take well worth reading, too.

There aren’t many new insights here, but Posnanski does raise some fascinating ideas. At the end of a chapter in which he recounts both Joe’s courtship of Sue and then-Oakland Raiders coach Al Davis’ courtship of Joe (he wanted Paterno to be the offensive coordinator), Posnanski writes:

“She had fallen in love with State College the first day she arrived on campus as a student, and though Joe did not know it yet, the rest of his life would be guided by her vision. Joe was cocky, ambitious, principled, smart, consumed by football, and determined to win; those qualities and others would make him a great football coach. But he would become a legend by seeing the world through Sue’s eyes.”

Now that’s something I’d like to know more about. You can learn a lot about someone by understanding their relationships—particularly the choice of a life partner—and breaking down the Paterno marriage would have been insightful. But that thread is never picked up. And it’s not the only one.

In a few places, Posnanski zeroed in on the contradiction that I’ve never been able to understand: How was it that a man who spent his life preaching the value of education, preparing his football players to live a productive life away from the football field, wasn’t able to walk away himself and enjoy the other facets of his own life?

In recounting the program’s struggles in the early 2000s and Paterno’s refusal to consider retirement, Posnanski writes, “So why go on? Why keep coaching? There is no shortage of theories, but no one can know the depth of another man’s heart.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know a least a little more. Perhaps in another decade or so, enough time will have passed that more reporting can be done. For now, this book is as close as we’ll get.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

August 22, 2012 at 8:38 am 2 comments

The Book on Joe

Lately it seems like the gods are making sure that there’s always a steady stream of news coming out about Penn State. And I think we already know what next week’s news will be: Paterno, the new biography by Joe Posnanski. It’s due to hit bookstores on Tuesday.

There’s a fair amount of anticipation around the book’s release (it’s already No. 28 on the top-sellers list, for example) and in large part that’s because of the circumstances: Posnanski set out to write a biography of Joe several years back, long before anyone knew what was to come, and suddenly last November Joe Paterno was out of a job and the nature of the book changed completely.

There was a time earlier this summer when a lot of people questioned whether the book even mattered anymore. The release of the Freeh report—which harshly criticizes Paterno for not doing more to stop Jerry Sandusky from abusing young boys—didn’t help. A July 22 New York Times story called the biography “perhaps one of the most unfortunately timed books of 2012” and said it would “enter the marketplace at a moment when the name of Joe Paterno … has gone from revered to radioactive.” Posnanski’s book tour was cancelled, and now you can’t even find an official website for the book.

(The New York Times also wrote about the book this past April; that’s an article worth reading as well.)

On Wednesday of this week, Posnanski himself wrote in USA Today about the challenges the book presented. It sounds like the first sentence of his book sums up pretty well the extremes in people’s perceptions of Joe:

“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.”

Also on Wednesday, GQ magazine released some teensy tiny excerpts from the book—a grand total of 500 words’ worth. You can read those here. (And what the heck is Paterno, an avowed luddite, holding in that illustration? An iPhone?) Those are teasers from a longer excerpt that’s available in the September edition of GQ, which is on newsstands now.’s Nate Mink ’11 bought a copy of the magazine and has posted a story about it, and Dustin Hockensmith ’04 of has a story as well.

Tina Hay, editor

August 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm Leave a comment

A Sandusky Scandal Reading List

I spent a little time Sunday afternoon trying to catch up on all of the media coverage of the child sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the University. I barely made a dent in the stack of articles I had printed, but so far, a few stand out as required reading.

1. “Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State football staffer, subject of grand jury investigation.” The Harrisburg paper gets credit for being the first to report—last March 31—that a grand jury was investigating Jerry Sandusky ’66, ’71g. The story was written by Sara Ganim ’08.

2. “Who Knew What About Jerry Sandusky?” Sara Ganim again, this time in a special report this past Friday chronicling the allegations that stretch over a 10-year period—and the missed opportunities to do something about them.

The rest of the articles on the list are not reported news stories so much as essays reflecting on various aspects of this sorrowful mess:

3. “Growing Up Penn State.” An essay at the new sports site by Michael Weinreb ’94, who grew up in State College. He writes poignantly of how his ideals have been shattered, citing, for example, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami:

It is still my favorite football game of all time, a metaphoric triumph of the unadorned hero over the flamboyant villain. I wrote a long piece about it for ESPN, and a portion of a book, that now rings completely hollow. I have the original video recording of it in my living room, and I have thought several times over the past couple of days about taking a hammer to it.

4. “A Test of Bonds Old and New.” Malcolm Moran was a longtime (more…)

November 14, 2011 at 9:48 am 13 comments

Trying to Find Teaching Moments

After a night of wandering downtown State College and campus, sadly reporting on the riots that followed the firing of Joe Paterno (the resignation of president Graham Spanier didn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind), I got up this morning, and I went to class.

Mike Poorman ’82 developed and teaches COMM 497G, “Joe Paterno: Communications and the Media,” and this semester’s section conveniently meets Thursday mornings at 9:45. I sat in the back row, a few seats a way from a couple of current football players who are enrolled in the class, and listened to two of sports journalism’s best, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, speak about how the media has covered the sexual abuse charges against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky ’66, ’71g, the perjury charges against athletic director Tim Curley ’76, ’78g and acting vice president Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and the ensuing events.

Said Posnanski, who’s been living in town to write a biography of Paterno, “I’ve never been around a story that has changed as fast as this one.”

Said Forde, who parachuted in after the LSU–Alabama game last weekend to jump on the story, “I packed for two days and this is Day 4, with Days 5 and 6 to come. I might be running around here in gym shorts soon.”

The students asked good questions, including (more…)

November 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm 3 comments

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