The Implausible Image Reconstruction of Joe Paterno

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The Joe Paterno image reconstruction has entered the last vestiges of rebuilding a myth that was undone months before Paterno’s death. For a man who dedicated his life and put forth the pretense of doing things differently—and “right”—while crafting an unassailable persona of delineating between what he did and what the likes of Barry Switzer did at the University of Oklahoma, the memory of decency and adhering to principles is all that’s left and the family is taking great pains and presumably undertaking significant expense to salvage whatever’s left of that crumbled persona.

Paterno took pride in not recruiting the type of player who wouldn’t go to class; who couldn’t read; who was passed through because of his skills on the football field and the money he could bring in by helping the team win; who would commit crimes and get away with them. He did all of this while allowing a pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, to work as his defensive coordinator and stalk his campus even after he was no longer the defensive coordinator. Which is worse?

In this New York Times piece discussing the report commissioned by the family to defend Paterno, it’s noted that Paterno and Sandusky didn’t have a personal relationship; that Paterno didn’t like Sandusky. If that’s the case, why didn’t he fire Sandusky? I don’t mean for the child abuse allegations, but years before just because he felt like it? Even if Sandusky wasn’t accused of these heinous crimes, Paterno was under no obligation to keep Sandusky around if he didn’t want him. Was Penn State’s on-field dominance and recruiting going to suffer without Sandusky? Highly unlikely. Was Sandusky an irreplaceable defensive wizard? The consensus is that Sandusky was a good defensive coordinator, but this isn’t the NFL where there has to be a scheme to suit the players and the head coach’s job was dependent on the performance of his assistants. They could’ve found someone else to install as the defensive coordinator and there wouldn’t have been a noticeable difference on the field.

Did Sandusky have something on Paterno that necessitated keeping him around and letting him run free with his nefarious activities? It’s a viable question. Paterno was so powerful at Penn State that he was able to control the entire campus if not the entire state of Pennsylvania. His power was so vast that could’ve named his wife as defensive coordinator and gotten away with it and, given the talent levels they had, the team would’ve won anyway. In fact, he could’ve put a headset on a monkey and stuck him in the booth with a hat that said, “defensive coordinator” and there wouldn’t have been a marked difference between Sandusky or Sue Paterno doing the job.

This was not a professional sports situation in which a coach has to accept certain mandates in hiring his assistants because of owner desires or other factors. Paterno was basically the “owner.” He could do what he wanted. There are circumstances in professional sports where a manager is told which coaches he’s going to have. We saw it last year to disastrous results with the Red Sox and Bobby Valentine not speaking to his bench coach Tim Bogar, who he saw as an undermining spy (and was right), and not having a relationship with his pitching coach Bob McClure, who was fired during the season.

Veteran managers like Jim Leyland and Joe Torre have had coaches thrust upon them in the past. In all of Leyland’s jobs, there have been “his” guys Milt May, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Rich Donnelly. He trusts them and they’re his aides-de-camp. With the Pirates, though, he had Ray Miller as his pitching coach. Leyland and Miller weren’t buddies, but Miller was a fine pitching coach and Leyland had little choice in the matter because Miller was hired by the front office.

In the end, Leyland was going to do what he wanted with the pitchers no matter what the pitching coach said so it didn’t matter who was sitting next to him on the bench and the same was true with Paterno. It was his show. When the aforementioned Switzer took over the Dallas Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson, he essentially inherited an entire coaching staff, many of whom wanted his job and were still loyal to Johnson. Switzer wanted to be Cowboys coach and that was a concession he was forced to accept to make it happen.

This is not unusual. Front offices don’t want managers hiring their buddies and managers don’t want people they don’t trust in their clubhouse. The front office always wins out. Paterno was not in the position where he had to be agreeable about anything. He was the front office and he made the final call.

Much like the saying that there’s nothing more useless than an unloaded gun, what purpose did Paterno’s accumulated power serve if he was more concerned about his legacy and pretentiously ensuring that the image surpassed the reality than with dealing with what Sandusky was doing? I get the impression that Paterno was told about Sandusky and didn’t truly understand what it was he was being told. Whether that was due to old age; a compartmentalized wall he’d built in his mind not to acknowledge that people—especially someone with whom he’d worked for decades—would do terrible things to children; a desire to protect himself, his legend and Penn State; or all of the above was known only to Paterno.

On both sides of a legal argument, anyone can find an “expert” to say whatever needs to be said to bolster the viewpoint of the person who requested the testimony and investigation. They’ll have “proof” regardless of how ludicrous and farfetched it sounds. The family collected credible names in former United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and attorney Wick Sollers to provide the defense. These men have lots of credentials, impressive resumes and letters after their names. Not to impugn their impartiality, but since they were paid by the Paterno family, what were the odds they would find fault in what Joe Paterno did? That they would agree with Louis Freeh’s conclusions? You don’t have to come up with a number because I can tell you what it is: zero.

Freeh, the former FBI Director and lead investigator hired by Penn State’s board of trustees in the Sandusky case, had no obvious vested interests. Agree with him or not, it made little difference to him whether Paterno was complicit in any part of the case. If he was innocent, what difference would it have made for Freeh to say so?

In such a public pronouncement and presentation as that of the Paterno family, there are no parameters for the defense. Paterno’s dead and the only dissection and finders of fact will be done and made by the public. Their judgment is not legally binding nor does it have worse consequences than what the Paterno family is currently fending off. They’re saving a monument, not keeping someone out of jail.

Some will be searching for justification of Paterno’s innocence; others seeking confirmation of his ignorance and/or guilt. Each side has their own versions of the facts and individual desires to have them seen as the “truth.” We’ll never know the answer. But if the Paterno family thinks that this report will rebuild “Paterno” as the totem and not the man, they’re as ignorant as Paterno himself was when Sandusky operated with impunity with Paterno the man, wittingly or not, contributing mightily to Paterno the totem’s downfall.

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Who Cares What Bill James Says About Paterno?

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If Joe Shmo on the street says something offensive about the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky/Penn State mess, he’s dismissed as a crank and ignored. Bill James does it and it’s a national catastrophe of outrage and shame.

You can read the recap with all the required links here on Deadspin.

I’m not weighing in on what James said because I really don’t care what he said.

Why is James’s opinion on this story given weight? Why does anyone care what he says?

James’s obnoxious pomposity—that’s been present in his writings from the beginning—was accepted as the personality of an iconoclast and because he was providing something useful that the market wanted. Now that he says things that are borderline lunatic, he gets roasted or has excuses made for him. He’s the same person.

Frankly I never saw what the big deal about him was in the first place. His writing is overwrought and intentionally obtuse. He’s taken as the final word on baseball when he’s more of a theorist whose main attribute was that he was able to, as he himself said, “count things”. He’s just a guy. A guy who talks about baseball and managed to carve out a career for himself by appealing to those who were also crunching numbers and finding different ways to think and assess the game of baseball. He wasn’t curing cancer and he’s not always right. There are ways to analyze players and discuss the game without being a slave to numbers to the degree that much of James’s work has been twisted.

He’s been mythologized because he was the first so-called “stat geek” to enter the mainstream. Does that make him an authority on everything? He was asked about the Paterno situation and he gave his opinion. That opinion was somewhat ridiculous and in it he does what he used to tear into baseball executives for doing by making random statements based on nothing.

“(Showering with) boys was quite common in America 40 years ago”? Really? In how many homes was this prevalent? Did James do what he says is the basis for his baseball analysis: counting? Did he check into the number of homes from 40 years ago and do in-depth research with the requisite analysis of exactly how these showers were taken? Was it in a lockerroom situation with dividers between the showerheads? Was it in a bathtub? A walk-in? What?

How would he know that it was common? And if it was, why is that relevant to what Sandusky was doing? Maybe he needs to come up with the Pythagorean Shower Theorem to adequately categorize what’s deemed appropriate and inappropriate.

What I find ludicrous about the James story isn’t simply what he said, it’s that a large chunk of the criticisms of him are laden with caveats from people like Craig Calcaterra who believes similarly to James in baseball thinking and because of that feels the need to provide apologetic explanations and addendums for perfectly reasonable statements he’s made because they were later described as “cheap shots”.

Is there a difference between levying criticism at Bill James and the people in baseball who receive abuse from outsiders who don’t know anything about baseball other than how to read a stat sheet? Well-known Jamesean bloggers send nothing but cheap shots at GMs, managers, coaches, broadcasters and writers who dare disagree with them, but that’s okay?

In the end, why is anyone offended by something James says about a story not baseball-related? When did he become a credible commentator on subjects outside the world of intricate stats in baseball? He’s not a legal mind; he’s not a politician; he’s not a newsman; he’s not a columnist. He’s just a guy who wrote about baseball and is no more important than you or me.

By that shower-metric, there’s no reason for this over-the-top response to what he said because it’s essentially meaningless.

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You Can’t Have It Both Ways With Paterno

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Either Joe Paterno was an increasingly detached figurehead or a cold, calculating, self-interested manipulator.

Which is it?

The latest story is that Paterno, cognizant that the Jerry Sandusky arrest and subsequent revelations were likely to explode and take a large chunk of his program with him, renegotiated his contract to insulate his perks and those used by his family.

You can read the NY Times Story here.

Could Paterno take that strong a hand and look ahead with such ruthlessness that he was concerned about those issues? Or was it the people around him—his children and wife—who were insulating their benefits for the aftermath when Paterno might not have had that much longer to live anyway?

What we’re supposed to reconcile is that Paterno didn’t grasp the gravity of the Sandusky allegations in 1998-2011, but following his grand jury testimony he knew enough to shield his liability and ensure his contract wouldn’t be torn up if his part in a coverup was discovered.

It’s a bit farfetched.

Only those that were around the program and Paterno on a day-to-day basis knew whether he was totally in control of the team or was the old man on the sideline with his assistants handling things day-to-day. They’ll come up with funny JoePa stories of how he was still in charge, but who believes it other than those invested in the myth? It sounds like age discrimination to suggest that he wasn’t entirely aware of his surroundings and able to process all that was placed in front of him, but when someone is in their eighth and ninth decades on the planet—no matter how lucid and feisty they are—there’s going to be a decline in their faculties and speed of comprehension. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any man or woman in their mid-70s-mid-80s that can oversee a program as large as Penn State’s with the vigilance of a coach 20 years younger.

When he was informed of the Sandusky behaviors in 1998 (if that was indeed the first time he’d heard about them—a shaky premise) he could clearly have done more than he did. In his 70s and with so much to lose, was he capable of acting as an objective boss and do what needed to be done for those children even at the risk of sending his beloved program into disarray? Could he conceive of what would happen if they did nothing and allowed Sandusky to keep operating with clear impunity in the interests of Penn State and the Paterno “I’m better than you” legacy?

When someone is treated as if they’re above the fray and not subject to the human condition, the inherent danger is that they begin to think they have to bolster that lie at the expense of common decency. This 1950s style, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days in Happy Valley perfection is drilled into the students of Penn State. Part of Paterno’s appeal was his insistence on doing things the “right” way. But that “right” way is always a matter of perception and, in many cases, it’s based on what the architects of the tale were able to hide and how effectively they hid it. The amount of good he did is now being obscured by the failure to act when he was informed of what was going on with one of his longtime assistants. And it should. That concept of the nuclear family with the mother and father in a loving home; with the 3 children who all go to school and behave themselves; who join the boy and girl scouts; call their mother ma’am and their father sir; and play football simply for the thrill of competition and the sporting ideal is not real. It never was. Don’t be surprised if more information comes out that the people at Penn State knew or suspected this despicable information about Sandusky long, long, long before 1998 and, in the interests of Paterno and the university, that it was swept under the rug.

No, there were no grade and recruiting violations at Penn State; no “bad seeds” hired as players because they could help the team win but would be terrifying presences around the campus; no compromises by the coach on the field and with the players he led to glory on Saturday afternoons. But there was this. It all fed into itself; it fed the monster until it grew too big to let die. The image-the ethics-the success-the money, the image-the ethics, the success, the money—a cycle that wouldn’t, couldn’t end.

The indoctrination of anyone and everyone who enters Penn State led to the riots when he was deservedly fired last December. Of course Paterno was still trying to stay on as coach. “Let Joe finish the season,” was the lament as if it mattered. It’s the same as any cult where the demagogue is not to be questioned, disciplined and, most importantly, dispatched. Dictators never leave their dictatorship willingly. They’re dragged off and many die during the transference of power or shortly thereafter by causes natural and not.

If they’d acted preemptively, would the cash cow that Paterno was have stopped that cash forever if this was addressed in 1998 or before? If they’d gotten in front of this whenever it was truly understood exactly what was going on, the story would’ve been devastating, but would’ve passed. Sandusky would’ve been a poison name for the university, but also would’ve been in jail and countless children would’ve been saved. If that were the case, Paterno and the people in charge of Penn State would’ve had the moral high ground that was the foundation of the Paterno legacy in the first place.

Now no one’s going to remember Paterno’s supposedly clean program or all the good that he did because of the mistakes he made (or was advised—poorly—to make) as he allowed a child molester to roam freely around his campus in the interest of personal gain and “protecting” Penn State as if it couldn’t exist without the idolatry lavished on Paterno.

The excuse of Paterno being too old to comprehend the severity of what Sandusky was doing can’t be valid when he wasn’t too old to coach a team of 18-22 year-olds every Saturday and reap the rewards of that responsibility as if he was better than the average human because he didn’t give his players a little pocket money; didn’t cover for them when they cheated on tests; didn’t look the other way at any little or big liberties they took because they were football players at the university.

In the end you have to look at what he did.

So was he able to calculate the consequences once Sandusky was arrested and take the action he did with his contract on his own? Or was he steered in a certain direction by his family? A direction not to salvage his legacy—only a delusional person isn’t taking an 85-year-old person’s life in short increments rather than the long-term—but his contract sweeteners that would have been in jeopardy and his widow and children would’ve lost if the scandal engulfed him as it eventually did?

That would shift the blame to the living; to those still dealing with the fallout; to those who stand to lose the perks that the contract renegotiation covered.

I doubt they’re going to permit that. What they’ll do is try to shift the goalposts of the legend of Paterno even if it’s a legend similar to those TV sitcoms from the 1950s and has little-to-no basis in reality.

Was he an out of touch old man? Or was he running the program and able to maintain enough mental acuity to renegotiate his deal so his wife could use the campus spa?

It can be one or the other. But it can’t be both.

Either way his supporters can’t win. If it’s the former, then there’s an open admission that they kept him around as a prop when he was past his sell-by date. If it’s the latter then he was a severely flawed individual who put his own interests above those of the children that Sandusky was abusing.

You tell me which one it was.

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Francesa Mails It In with Gusto and Diet Coke

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It takes a special kind of arrogance to extend mailing it in to openly gloating about mailing it simultaneously to being pompous, condescending, obnoxious and rude.

But Mike Francesa pulled it off yesterday during his interrupt…er, interview with hockey analyst Pierre McGuire.

You can watch/listen below.

In a tone of, “no need to thank me for doing you this favor of talking about hockey”, Francesa continuously interrupted McGuire as if he wanted to get the interview over with as quickly as possible to move onto more salable and important matters for his audience than the sport of hockey.

This is somewhat understandable considering that his listeners, in general, are there to hear baseball, football and basketball. When there’s an important event in another venue—one that translates into something everyone can weigh in on like the Penn State mess—it’s a legitimate news story. After all these years on the radio and his success, Francesa’s earned the right to talk about things that he wants to talk about like golf and horseracing in spite of the small percentage of fans who are deeply invested in them.

But he doesn’t watch hockey.

Is he obligated to do so? I don’t think he is.

I’ve never held it against WFAN in general and Francesa in particular for not being all-in on hockey. It’s supply and demand. The listenership demands more baseball/football than anything else and that’s what the station provides. The number of people who simply have the radio on as background noise and leave it on even if he’s talking about something they’re not interested in is limited; others, like me, only listen if there’s something we want to hear. For a large segment, that’s not hockey.

But on a slow sports news day when the biggest story is the equivalent of a negotiating session between China (the Yankees) and Taiwan (the Pirates) over territorial rights and bullying as to whom gets final custody of an expensive dissident (A.J. Burnett), and with the New York Rangers playing so well, there was a window to discuss hockey.

But Francesa constantly interrupted McGuire; he interjected random points that he seemed to think transcended which sport he was talking about and generalized any business in terms of future value vs present need; and declared what he’d do if he were in the position of the Rangers in terms of trades.

The strangest and funniest portion was when McGuire began mentioning players’ names with Francesa (at most) half-listening. He could easily have been listing members of Canadian Parliament and Francesa wouldn’t have known the difference.

Stickhandling (hockey, y’know) around an interview by vamping and uttering generalities is frequent when discussing an unfamiliar sport—they all do it—but to do a radio interview with eyes half closed while essentially providing a detailed account of how the audience are fools for listening at all shows an audacity remarkable in its scope and embarrassing to those who let Francesa get away with it without protest.

Acting interested in a subject one isn’t well versed in is part of the job, but Francesa didn’t even think enough of the hockey fans in the audience to do that.

I’d suggest that those offended by it complain to the station, but the higher-ups probably don’t care all that much either.

It’s a lockstep of indifference. Such is life under a dictatorship run by the Sports Pope.

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The YES Network and Its Reporting Sham

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The failure of the YES Network to acknowledge the Brian Cashman-stalker story as anything of note should prove with finality that they’re the propaganda arm of the Yankees’ apparatus and should be treated as such.

No longer can anyone confuse YES with a venue for legitimate analysis and sports news, if they ever could to begin with.

Because Michael Kay has yet to discuss this issue isn’t indicative of a conspiracy on the part of the employees of YES and Yankees’ apologists to ignore it and hope it goes away. If you’re listening to Kay in the interest of a genuine dissemination of objective information, you need to check your premises before moving forward to anything in the real world. Paraphrasing Kay, the self-absolving line regarding Cashman’s scandal, “it’s personal” or something to that effect, is typical of one whose interests coincide with the organization and not to his listeners.

The concept that Cashman and his stalker and apparent former lover Louise Meanwell/Neathway is out of bounds for the sports world had weight before the police got involved and she was arrested; before the revelation that Cashman had given her $6000 in an effort to quiet her; before it became known that the GM of the Yankees had written a letter of recommendation for a clearly disturbed person with the Yankees letterhead across the top of the page.

How is this not relevant enough to mention in passing? How has it not been part of the discussion of Cashman doing his job properly and if his involvement with this woman and his wife filing for divorce will affect his ability to do it?

The out-front representative of the entire organization was writing recommendation letters under the implied auspices of the Yankees. As that representative of the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees, Cashman was essentially saying that this woman—who was either having sex with him or blackmailing him—was, in the view of Cashman, a qualified and stable person.

Is that not a story rife questions that a high school reporter would know needed to be asked?

There has never been an honest and aboveboard reporting wing on YES. Even when Kim Jones was asking difficult questions to Joe Torre, they weren’t asked in the pursuit of answers for the audience; it later was revealed that the questions were traps set by George Steinbrenner and Randy Levine due to their ongoing feud with the then-Yankees manager and Torre knew it.

Kay, as is his wont, made sure to kick Torre after the manager was out the door with the statement that he “protected” Torre.

Is that his job?

Or was he following the mandated plot to keep his bosses happy?

And if that was the case, how dare he claim to be providing evenhanded, “expert” baseball analysis on his radio show while simultaneously functioning with a clear and transparent agenda.

Kay’s lack of journalistic integrity and skill are self-evident, but what about everyone else on the network?

Last season, when Joe Girardi had an on-field confrontation with pitcher A.J. Burnett, YES reporter Jack Curry almost apologetically broached the subject so as not to offend the manager and upset the hierarchy of what was and wasn’t okay to say on the Yankees’ signature network.

During the Penn State scandal, we saw what a dogged and legitimate journalist Jones was with her on-site reporting and analysis from the point-of-view of a Penn State alumnus.

It’s a shame we never got to see that while she was the sideline reporter and post-game clubhouse voice of the YES Network. But she had her marching orders and she followed them. I can’t blame her for that.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting the Cashman should be fired nor that this is anything other than what he says it was and what’s been reported so far. He got involved with an attractive woman who appears to have a long history of stalking, obsessive and harassing behaviors. It’s embarrassing, but nothing that he can’t overcome and continue to do a job he’s done competently for almost a decade-and-a-half.

But it is a story even for the network whose identification is side-by-side and in lockstep with the Yankees baseball and business wing. The problem is when side-by-side becomes indistinguishable with intertwined and that’s what the relationship has become.

When you can’t tell the difference is the time that you can’t believe anything they say because what they say won’t be truth-centric; it will be based on organizational needs.

That’s not reporting.

It’s a sham.

And a blatant one at that.

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