Friday, July 25, 2014

Paterno Legacy by Jay Paterno: A Must Read!

I was lucky enough to learn that the Barnes and Noble bookstore in State College had a few copies of this book before anyplace else in the country.  I was able to drive down to the bookstore and pick one up right away.  Never mind that I almost got a speeding ticket on my way to pick up the book...luckily the police officer that stopped me was kind!

Once I acquired it I couldn't put it down, even though I went through an entire box of tissues while reading it.  There are painful moments, rich moments, humorous moments.  It is very well written.

 It's not a pleasant read if you love Penn State.  Especially if you teach at or work for Penn State, and during that awful November 2011 were trying to faithfully conduct your job during the chaos of the news media avalanche on State College, while also trying to sort out your many conflicting feelings about what was happening and how the crisis was being managed, and deal with your very confused students in the classroom.

Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and nobody at Penn State could avoid the reality that public reaction to anyone accused of child sexual abuse or to an institution accused of covering up child abuse will be swift and severe.

And so the horror of the accusations against Penn State were very real for this most avid Penn State football fan.  One of my first acts after reading the grand jury presentment was to understand the child abuse reporting laws.

You see, I had worked for several years in children's services in Massachusetts so I knew something about mandated reporting laws for child abuse.  What I discovered in my own investigation into the laws of Pennsylvania was that Joe Paterno did exactly what he was supposed to do according to university policy and the law.  There was no cover up on his part.  I believed that then and I continue to believe that now.   As for the other administrators whom Joe reported to who allegedly perpetrated a cover up, there has been no evidence yet presented in a court of law to determine that. 

As Jay so correctly points out in his book, there was no crisis management and very poor handling of the media during those first critical days.  The resulting confusion was then compounded by the choice that the Board of Trustees made to relieve both president Dr. Graham Spanier and coach Joe Paterno of their duties without any investigation or due process.  Jay describes the pain of those days for Joe and for his family as they try to respond to what Jay calls the train wreck.

Jay Paterno describes what it was like for the football team and for himself and his family during those confusing days and weeks.  What he states is very painful to read, but it also gives good and new insight into how the Paterno family was reacting during those initial days and weeks, and what their guiding principles were.

The book also brings back memories of the dreary conclusion to the 2011 season, one that had such promise of perhaps a B1G championship or at least a good bowl selection.

Instead this football team, which had no part in Sandusky's crimes, was passed over by several bowl selection committees until finally the Ticket City Bowl agreed to extend an invitation to play against Houston.

Jay's role on the football team is of special interest here.  The pressure he was under was unbelievable, at a time when his family was also confronted with the news that his dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

My husband Terry and I lived that pain with them as we not only witnessed the Nebraska game, we also traveled to support the team at Ohio State the following week, at Wisconsin where pedophile jokes were being shouted at us by some obnoxious fans, and at the Ticket City bowl where among other things we had to contend with Westboro Baptist Church pickets at the entrance to the stadium.  We watched an excellent football team with championship potential fall apart at the end of the season.

Between the years 1990-2012 Terry attended every game Penn State played and I missed only four.  Terry had also attended 426 games overall since 1970, and I had attended games since 1987..

So this book brought a lot of smiles as well. There were Jay's descriptions of critical plays that were the keys to success in certain come from behind wins.   We were in the stands for all of them.

There were those dreary years between 1998-2004 when losses piled up, especially on the road.  When Terry and I would look at each other and ask each spring, "So do we really want to follow a losing team for another season?"  And then we would purchase our airfare anyhow, because, well, hope sprung eternal and Joe was right - the team never quit during all those losing years.  They were a play or two or a bad call or two away from winning some games that would have made the difference.

Jay's description of the 2004 season sparked a memory of an encounter Terry and I had with Dr. Graham Spanier at Ohio State.  Dr. Spanier was waiting for a ride to take him to his next appointment as Terry and I were heading into the Penn State Alumni Association tailgate.  We chatted a bit about the losing season.  I asked him if he was getting pressure from the "Joe Must Go" crowd.  He told us, "You bet.  Over 200 calls or emails per day.  I had to hire someone extra just to answer the phones."

Then he asked Terry and me, knowing we were long time faithful fans, what he should do.  Terry and I both expressed that Joe had done so much for Penn State that, regardless of his win-loss record, he had earned the right to determine when he wanted to retire.

I concluded with this remark  "You're damned if you fire him and you're damned if you don't.  You are hearing from the naysayers now, and if the losses pile up there will be more of them.  But I hate to imagine what the calls would be like to your office if you force Joe out.  My guess is it will be a whole lot more."  Dr. Spanier seemed to appreciate that input.  Jay's take on the 2004 season to me was accurate when he talks about how close Joe might have come to getting fired.

There was Jay's discussion of the 2005 turnaround season, and Joe's special relationship with Michael Robinson.  Jay might not have liked the word vindication, but to me it was very sweet after years of chasing losses on the road.  There was also the Big Ten championship 2008 season and the horribly cold Iowa game that year where we lost at the very end of the game and I almost got trampled by Iowa fans trying to run onto the field to celebrate.

And so, colored by my own experience especially, this book is both a fun and powerful read.

Why?  Because it adds so much insight into the recent history, and when you're not dealing with the painful parts of the destruction of the Paterno legacy and Penn State by the media and by how the Sandusky scandal was handled, the rest of the book is extremely insightful into the workings of the mind of a coaching legend.  You learn about his recruiting philosophy, his political motivations, his relationships with other coaching legends like Bear Bryant. 

And how often do you get a perspective on Joe Paterno from three different points of view:  a son who was raised by him, a player who was coached by him, and an employee who was supervised by him?

Jay Paterno provides all three of these perspectives and does it with a writing style that's not only engaging, but hard to put down.

I never witnessed my father at work.  That was his separate life, and he hardly ever talked about it at home.  It was only at his retirement party that I finally understood how many people revered him and what he did for his company.  Most of us are similar to me.  We go through life barely understanding how our fathers or mothers operate at work.

Jay had the privilege of seeing how his father operated in all areas and described how his dad approached decisions in ways that will bring new insights into how he managed to win for all those years.  There were notes that Jay found and shares in this book that provide insights into his thinking about the Big Ten, about certain critical seasons.

Jay also shared the struggles of watching his father die amidst all the turmoil.  The joyful moments and the sad moments.  The many many visitors and phone calls.  The descriptions of his dad's intentions and his final thoughts.

Jay gives good insight into why the Paterno family continues to take action, including legal action, to get to the truth.   Clearing Joe Paterno's name and legacy is only part of their motivation, but they also have worked to get at the truth of what really happened so that people can be educated about how to prevent further victims of child sexual abuse from "nice guy" predators. 

Their love for Penn State comes through in their legal attempts to counter the false narrative of the Freeh report, with all the damage it wrought upon the university.   In fact, when reading this book, it's at times hard to understand why the Paternos continue to want to support Penn State.  But they do so with grace and class.

Overall, the book confirms once again how much the world gained by Joe Paterno's life and what we lost when Joe Paterno passed away.  The life lessons he imparted on several generations of football players and on all others who came to know him will have an impact for years and years to come.

As soon as it's available, get this book and soak it up.  It will make you cry.  It will make you angry.  It will make you smile.  It will give you insights that perhaps you can use in your work or your daily life.

And to Jay I say, congratulations for a job well done.

You told a bold story in a forthright manner, and it is one of the best books I've read in a while.  For everything you and your family are going through as the truth of Penn State's involvement in the Sandusky crimes has yet to be determined in a court of law, you will continue to be in my prayers.

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