Our American based authors will be familiar with the Pennsylvania State University child sex abuse scandal of last year. A former assistant coach of the Penn State football team, Jerry Sandusky aged 68, was found guilty of sexual crimes against children. He is expected to receive a sentence of sixty years in jail.
Joe Paterno was the legendary head coach of the team from 1966-2011. He was fired amid accusations that he knew about Sandusky’s crimes and concealed them. This biographical book was in the process of being written by Joe Posnanski before the scandal erupted. Inevitably, the author has to include details of the heinous crimes of Sandusky though the book is not primarily about that. Tragically, three months after receiving the sack Paterno died of lung cancer. Posnanski completed the book a few months later.
American sports and American football has never interested me yet I found that I could not put this book down. At 400 odd pages it is a lengthy read. I tend to take my time with books that I like and stretch them out so as to enjoy them longer. This one was read in two days.
For a non Grid Iron fan like me it was a delight to read of such exotic awards, tournaments and authorities: The Heisman Trophy, The Fiesta Bowl, The Big Ten Network and The NCAA. The author has took it for granted that everyone knows what a cornerback is. This lost me and I imagine this strange position is the equivalent of Long Off or Long On. I could, of course, be wrong.
The many eye witness accounts by former players at the college mostly praise the coach for the influence he had in their career. Any player that was failing in his grades was kicked off the team. Charges were laid by sources that Paterno’s ever-present sanctimonious stance was false. A rejoinder to this is the fact that he refused a million bucks to coach the New England Patriots and stayed with Penn State and the $35,000 a year salary. As ever, opinions vary on the righteousness of the coach.
It was riveting journeying with Paterno and Penn State through the years with its successes, its failures and the many unique footballers that played for the team. There’s so many memorable vignettes. Choosing one to illustrate the tone of the book is difficult-
Paterno is on a recruiting mission for a highly rated high school player. While he is chatting with the player’s parents the ten year old brother asks Paterno for fifteen autographs. Paterno, by this time a legend, knows the boy will sell his signature to schoolmates. Paterno signs then says to the boy someday he might want his signature. Eight years later the boy is 6ft 7 and close to 300 pounds. “I’m here for your autograph.” he tells the boy.
The ugly crimes of Sandusky’s are dealt with near the end of the book. Paterno’s crime was that he knew of the abuses and failed to inform the police. In his seventies at the time and with his powers fading an incident happened in 2002 that was reported to Paterno. Paterno told his superior at the University about it and left it at that. Ten years later when the full extent of the predator’s sins were exposed Paterno could only utter “I wish I’d done more.”
Too late, too late, the Legacy is in ruins.