Sports At Its Worst

Joe Paterno, Patriot-News

Top half of today's (Harrisburg) Patriot-News, my choice for cover of the day in the "Covers on the Newseum Site" category.

When Joe Paterno announced on Wednesday that he was planning to step down from the job he’s held since my father‘s teenage years, my writing gears started turning. There’s something reassuring about things that have been in your life since your earliest memories, be it a grandfatherly football coach who appeared to get where sports fit in the grand scheme, an irascible old man who told funny stories about life when the football games were over on Sunday night or Wimbledon being on NBC. At a time in my life when I feel keenly aware of things not being the way they used to be, the act of another one slipping away is never enjoyable.

But you know what’s even less enjoyable? Grandstanding. And there’s been enough of that to make me eager not to add much to the discussion. Unlike the vast majority, I know enough to understand that sometimes, I really don’t have anything worth adding to add.

Wednesday night, after Paterno was fired for his lack of action, might have been the worst sequence in the history of Twitter. So often, we hear how integral and enjoyable it is, especially in the context of sports discussions. Well, if there’s one thing the world didn’t need last night, it was thousands of people shoving each other out of the way to make sure you knew they’re against raping children in showers.

To everyone castigating the students and people of State College for taking to the streets and reacting with shock about the dismissal of their Godthat story, by State College native Michael Weinreb, has plenty to add to the discussion — remember this the next time you’re crowing about people painting their faces and sitting outside for tickets or tailgating or a “College Gameday” taping for three days. What you’re witnessing is fandom, and it’s really not about anything but absolutes, certainly not now. You and your bosses’ belief that sports could support a 24-hour news cycle helped make it that way.

To the journalists who spent last night proclaiming what an insult to their profession the press conference announcing Paterno’s firing was … wow, that’s a shock. No one’s more eager to tell you how important journalists are than journalists, especially sports journalists who don’t actually have a leg to stand on in said argument. I mean, how would the republic survive without Peter Abraham and Jonah Keri?

Side point on that front … someone should probably tell Toucher and Rich that they’re much better at interviewing drunks after Bruins games than pontificating about sports. Talk radio is usually the bottom of every discussion in the medium, but that’s never been more true than in this case. Whole lot of “I’d have kicked his ass” chatter, which is pretty telling given none of the dozens of people mentioned in the grand jury testimony did that. Why, it’s almost like this story isn’t as cut and dried as some people might think it is!

The grand jury testimony is heinous. But I don’t know what Joe Paterno knew. I don’t know if he was protecting a friend or a brand or anything. Paint me that picture better and I’ll feel a lot better about passing judgment on the guy.

And to sports as a whole, thanks for reminding me why every day, I move you a little further from my heart. As time goes on, it all means less and less. The return on emotional investment is less and less, because the amount of crap between the fan and the payoff for all that passion grows and grows. The games are great as they ever were, and they will continue to be even greater as time goes on.

It’s just harder and harder to swallow all that surrounds them. The baggage. The screaming. The understanding that the incredible things you’re seeing are probably being done with a bending of the rules. Sure, “everybody does it,” and a ton of the rules are stupid. (A discussion for another day.) But if the only sure thing after enjoying a triumph is that somewhere down the road, someone’s going to repeatedly force you to feel like a sucker for enjoying the good times, then what’s the point?

And now, I’m going to sit down and read this Paterno profile by Ivan Maisel. He was undoubtedly in the wrong on this scandal, because given his power in that community, his word truly was gospel. If he wanted Sandusky exposed for his crimes, so would it have been done. And yet, one error in judgment does not undo a life of good. Sorry, frothing masses. Save it for the overnight show.