With the book launch imminent and excerpts already in circulation, Joe Posnanski discussed his anticipated biography “Paterno” in an essay for USA Today. After a self-imposed, topic-specific cloistering, Posnanski had to address two outstanding issues: whether he was in the tank for Paterno and how he handled a radically altered project. He does both.
Posnanski addresses the controversy caused by his immediate comments in a Penn State classroom.
I had agreed to speak at a class at Penn State — a class I had spoken at the previous two or three years — and because of timing the class met just hours after Paterno had been fired and many student foolishly rioted in the wake. The discussion grew heated and spirited, and suddenly I found myself being quoted and misquoted in stories and being charged with mindlessly defending Joe Paterno against horrible villainy with which he had not yet been charged. All I had wanted to say was that we needed time to find out what was real and what wasn’t.
Erring rashly in the moment is human, though his reflection seems a bit inaccurate. His blog post appears to be deleted. Posnanski was quoted as saying: “I think [Paterno] is a scapegoat. I definitely think that” and that he was “heartbroken” about the treatment the Paternos had received. Those comments differ from “we needed time to find out what was real and what wasn’t.” They convey a firm perception of what was real. They were, perhaps, the words of the man still writing “The Grand Experiment” for a Father’s Day release.
This book was certainly “complex.” Posnanski started as a biographer fleshing out a history. He wound up as a journalist witnessing its stunning denouement. He had to detach where detachment was impossible. He had to broaden a story still raw and in flux. His subject was a convoluted figure, as much myth as man. This may not have been history’s toughest book to write, but it surely surpassed the sports book intended. His only route was to be earnest and thorough.
As a writer, I tried to take the measure of the man who was that head football coach. I believe I have written about his life with as much honesty as I have. I have reported as many of the facts of the Sandusky case as I could uncover (including some new ones). But I also objectively write about why so many people admired and idolized Joe Paterno in the first place. I wrote at length about his youthful idealism. I wrote at length about his unprecedented success as a coach. I wrote at length about the last 15 years of his life when he would not quit. I wrote at length about the end.
We won’t know how successful Posnanski was until reading “Paterno,” though, as the initial comments on his piece suggest, it may be too soon for most to approach with an unclenched mind.
[Photo via Getty]
Full disclosure: Joe Posnanski works for USA Today Sports Media Group which owns The Big Lead.