Dr. Saturday

Joe Posnanski writes a column explaining the challenges of writing Joe Paterno’s book

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(US Presswire)

When Joe Posnanski began writing a book on former coach Joe Paterno, he had no idea it would take such a crazy turn.

One day, Posnanski was writing about a great man, coach and molder of young minds and the next he was writing about a man who had willfully covered up the actions of a child molester in the name of the program.

The book, Paterno, which comes out Aug. 21, is a portrait of Paterno's life. Originally, many thought the book would be a puff piece touting all the good Paterno did during his 61 years on the Penn State sidelines. But Posnanski has defended his book saying it will show both sides of a man much of the nation once idolized.

In a column in USA Today, Posnanski talks about the tribulations of writing a biography where the subject has changed so much almost overnight.

I suspect I will never have a more difficult task as a writer — I've been told by several authors that no biographer in American history has had a book change so drastically in the course of reporting. I suspect that's not right, but it is right that I was feeling my way through the dark. I was pushed and pulled, accused and derided, and that wasn't much fun. There were hundreds of questions, none of them with easy answers. But I had come to write a true book. That was what mattered. I have done my best to do that.

Excerpts of Posnanski's book have surfaced across the Internet. GQ issued a press release Wednesday that paints a picture of a coach who had no support by the end of his tenure.

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One excerpt talks about Paterno trying to save his job and reaching out to Penn State's Board of Trustees for help with the aid of PR specialist Dan McGinn. However, there is no help to be found.

This is when McGinn learned just how far Paterno's influence and reputation had fallen. He asked [family adviser Guido] D'Elia for the name of one person on the Penn State board of trustees, just one, whom they could reach out to, to negotiate a gracious ending. D'Elia shook his head.

"One person on the board, that's all we need," McGinn said.

D'Elia shook his head again. "It began in 2004," he whispered, referring to an old clash Paterno had with [university president Graham] Spanier. "The board started to turn. We don't have anybody on the board now."

That's when McGinn realized that this was going to be the worst day of Joe Paterno's professional life.

Later, the book talks about Paterno's emotions the day after he was asked to resign on Nov. 9.

On Thursday, Paterno met with his coaches at his house. He sobbed uncontrollably. This was his bad day. Later, one of his former captains, Brandon Short, stopped by the house. When Brandon asked, "How are you doing, Coach?" Paterno answered, "I'm okay," but the last syllable was shaky, muffled by crying, and then he broke down and said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with myself." Nobody knew how to handle such emotion. Joe had always seemed invulnerable. On Thursday, though, he cried continually.

"My name," he told Jay, "I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it's gone."

In his column in USA Today, Posnanski doesn't defend the book and writes that people will draw whatever conclusions they want about him and about the biography. But Posnanski thinks he wrote an honest book about a man, his life and the trials and tribulations that will shape his image forever.

I guess we'll all find out at the end of the month.

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 wrote 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.

No, I don't feel about Joe Paterno the same way I did when I started writing the book. But I don't feel about him the way his most blistering critics feel. He was a human being, filled with ideals and flaws, honesty and hypocrisy, charity and selfishness, modesty and the refusal to abdicate his throne. There was little simple about him. I chased the complicated story of a man and his long life. I hope that is the story I wrote.

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