There is no more telling fact than PSU having a regular class about Joe Paterno. Comm 497G: Joe Paterno, Communications & the Media, better known as "JoePa Class," studies the media through the lens of the longtime football coach. Today was obviously not a normal day. Instead, Joe Posnanski and Pat Forde spoke to JoePa Class. And thanks to the livetweeting by student and Onward State editor Devon Edwards, we were able to audit the class.
Some Posnanski quotes, obviously out of context and likely not transcribed precisely.
"I think [Paterno] is a scapegoat. I definitely think that...I think he tried to do the right thing, and the right thing didn't happen."
"The rush to judgment here has been extraordinarily. The lesson to learn might be that we screwed this thing up."
"I've never seen anything handled worse. Maybe how New Orleans, post-Katrina....Paterno was always dangled by this university."
"The only thing people remember about Woody Hayes is that he hit a player. I don't want that to happen to Joe. He didn't hit a player."
"If this happened at the University of Miami, no matter how bad it was, it wouldn't have elevated to this level."
"A lot of people came here to bury Joe. As a writer, I'm mad with that, as someone who's come to know the Paternos, I'm heartbroken."
The last one is conspicuous. He says "as a writer," but he means that he now considers Joe Paterno a friend, a good man, regardless of what happened nine years ago. He likes Joe Paterno and doesn't like seeing people say mean things about him.
Posnanski is spending the season living in State College, working on a book about Paterno. He is devoting a year of his life to what he thought would be a simple, unambiguous story: old man Joe, imparting life lessons to young kids and his adoring followers. It would have been fluff. Well-written fluff, but unsubstantial. It was scheduled to come out on Father's Day, and Posnanski pictured it being a reliable Father's Day gift for years to come.
In an interview just three weeks ago, Posnanski admitted as much. "When it comes to morality clauses," he said, "in that way, he is Father Joe."
What's happened is that the book Posnanski envisioned is dead. Every writer goes into a story with a concrete idea of what that story is going to be. Every writer does this, even for 300-word blog posts, to say nothing of a full-length book. When things change, when the facts don't fit the blueprint, writers get grumpy. All their planning, writing and plotting is for naught. Posnanski's angry at the world and its timing for wrecking his sentimental little outline, and he's taking it out on the media rather than the man he's profiling.
But this is a wonderful opportunity for a writer: to be on the ground before, during, and after a Capturing The Friedmans mess. And it's a wonderful chance for us to have a wonderful writer like Posnanski be the one to do it. When things calm down and Pos starts his new book from scratch, hopefully he'll realize that he has a chance to write something more important and more timeless than a mawkish Father's Day card.