Saturday, November 12, 2011

Joe Posnanski misses the mark on Joe Paterno -- hot house thinking is always suspect and vested interests cloud the vision of even great writers...

I really hate to do this, but I'm going to take Joe Posnanski to task.

Joe wrote a good column at Sport Illustrated after the Penn State child rape scandal broke, but it isn't good enough. I came to it through a couple of links -- the last in the Pitch -- and all along the way it is being hearlded as one of his best pieces of work. It isn't.

Posnanski is right on when he discusses how he wrote a bundle of columns in his early days about a football coach he thought was the best since sliced bread. He was shocked when the coach committed suicide. It was an awakening -- the sort many reporters have along the way.

As a reporter I came to the same conclusion: There are no all-good people and there are no all-bad people.

However, from this distance I detect something in his approach to this Penn State story that he should at least consider. He is, by the way, writing a book about Joe Paterno. He is even living in State College, Penn., to write it. And, near the end of his column, he seems strangely nuanced about his feelings when it comes to the subject of the book-to-be.

Why, you might ask, did the good people at Penn turn their backs -- literally -- on the 10-year-old in the shower and on the other uncounted victims? I don't think it would be unfair to suspect they had a vested interest in doing so. They were vested in the football program and in their legendary coach, and they made their ethical judgments with those concerns either front and center or hidden, but either way you can at least suspect those concerns were at the root of their decisions.

That's what happens when we make ethical decisions in the hot houses of our own minds. We twist and turn our excuses and justifications to provide the answer we wanted to hear in the first place. This is why presidents do things we can't imagine -- at some point they all come to believe the free world depends on their being president of the United States. So do their underlings. College presidents are not immune to hot house thinking either. Nor, their underlings. None of us are immune to it. Even very good writers.

With a book probably under contract and already a couple of months spent building the narrative and the sources while living at Penn State -- Joe Posnanski should probably step back and ask himself if he is also invested in this story in a way that might cloud his ethical thinking.

From all indications, there are no nuances to this story. That's my opinion, anyway. It seems logical to me that three things should happen: 1) Bo Pelini should be man enough, and care enough about the young people under his wing, that he not take his Nebraska football squad to State College to play football today. One of my students suggested this to me Thursday and he was right. The game started a few minutes ago, by the way, so you have your answer to number one. 2) Penn State should be courageous and sorry enough to simply cancel the rest of its season. And, since that game started a few minutes ago, you could conclude Penn State is simply sorry -- one sorry damned institution of higher learning. And, 3) Joe Posnanski should at least consider saying, well... this is just really not a bunch of people I want to invest a large chunk of my life writing about.

Unless, of course, he absolutely believes to his soul he can write the book with complete honesty. Only he knows if his editors and his publisher would accept his version of the truth or if they -- and he -- will be too vested to get it right.

-- Lofflin, feeling humble writing like this about the Great Posnanski...

And if you haven't read Greg Hall's piece, for god's sake, do. It is certainly miles ahead of this effort. Then, of course, as Hall points out, there is the question of the $750,000 advance.


  1. Joe Posnanski is symbolic of one of the fundamental problems about child abuse, which is a perception that not reporting child abuse is nowhere near as bad as child abuse itself. That isn't true. Turning a blind eye to child abuse is a horrific crime in and of itself.

  2. Well said. How disgusting the act is has bled over into the stigma of talking about the subject. Just like with all things, the more it is talked about and dealt with and reported, the less it will happen. These people are out there, they will always be out there, the more proactive we are in educating why these things happen and reporting them, the more able we will be to deal with the happenings moving forward.