OTC: Joe Posnanski’s Book On Paterno Is Reportedly Finished But Far From Complete

“[Joe] Posnanski’s pitch worked. Paterno agreed, and Simon & Schuster paid Posnanski a reported $750,000 advance to produce the biography.”
Noam Cohen, on JoPo’s pitch to publishers to write Paterno’s biography, writer, NY Times
GH: This occurred just over a year ago. What a year it has been for Paterno, JoPo and their book. Read on. 

“This seemed to be the early worry of the people closest to Joe [Paterno], that this would be another in the series of surface Joe Paterno books. That it would not delve deeply enough into what Joe means, the impact he has made on countless people and a college town in Pennsylvania and the game of football.”
Joe Posnanski, in his initial book proposal delivered to publishers, NY Times
GH: In JoPo’s own words he paints his upcoming biography on Paterno as a book that will “delve deeply into what Joe means…” We can only hope that JoPo’s definitive work on Paterno lives up to its billing. But I am not in the least bit optimistic that JoPo can or will deliver the goods.

“This book, I told them, will have a few O’s, and almost no X’s. This book will tell the remarkable story about a man who could have been anything but decided that the best way he could help change America was one college football player at a time.”
Joe Posnanski, in his initial book proposal delivered to publishers, NY Times
GH: It is haunting to me to read these words in JoPo’s proposal. JoPo believed at the time believed he would be chronicling the life of a beloved college football legend. But the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal that felled Paterno and his legacy gives an entirely different twist Paterno, who was so driven by college football success he ignored the crimes of his friend.

“I cannot begin to describe how excited I am about this project. I am, as you could probably tell from my previous stories on the man, a huge fan and admirer of Joe’s. But even more than that I am endlessly fascinated by him and his lifelong quest to do something large, to impact America, through football. So writing about Joe, his triumphs, his struggles, his journey, well, it really is everything I’ve ever wanted to do as a writer.”
Joe Posnanski, notifying the public that Paterno had agreed to the book, in a blog dated March 22, 2011
GH: JoPo is letting is all know he is a fan boy of Paterno, his subject. Many biographies are written from this perspective of idolatry. Few of them are worth a damn.

“Posnanski, 45, has since moved on from Sports Illustrated and fallen largely silent on his biography. He would not be interviewed for this article.”
Noam Cohen, NY Times
GH: I did not read Cohen’s article to be in any way judgmental in how JoPo was approaching his Paterno biography. If anything it was an excellent marketing piece for a book that Simon & Schuster paid JoPo a great sum to write and also promote. JoPo’s refusal to talk to the NY Times for this article speaks volumes to me. His silence screams coward. 

“Joe Posnanski didn’t go to Happy Valley to write about the unhappy end of Joe Pateno’s life and career. He intended it as an eternal Father’s Day gift, a sappy and sentimental picture of the aging lion in repose.”
Barry Petchesky, writer, DeadSpin.com
GH: None of us know how JoPo handled the Sandusky scandal in his Paterno book. DeadSpin and I have some strong opinions, though, on what we will read – or more accurately not read in his book. 

“One of the reasons we accelerated [the book’s release date] is that there is so much more public interest. Joe believes he can tell this story now – the pages I’ve read so far are superb.”
Jonathan Karp, publisher at Simon & Schuster, on moving up the book’s release date from Father’s Day 2013 to this July just before the start of football season, NY Times
GH: There will be an audience for whatever JoPo’s book delivers on the patron saint of Nittany Lions football. But the audience that would make this book memorable and possibly a classic is one that JoPo is not interested in reaching. JoPo is a loyal, nice guy who thinks his audience is Paterno’s family, friends and fans. He could not be more wrong.

“I am confident this book will be the defining word. He was far along in his work when all this happened.”
Jonathan Karp, NY Times
GH: Does this mean there is hope that JoPo will do the right thing and write this biography by telling us how Paterno’s life was so success-driven that he would allow children to be raped in his locker room and on his campus without ever confronting the rapist? I do not believe so. Read on. 

“I know there are people who believe that I have a responsibility to write more, to have an opinion, to come out strong, I know this because many, many people have written to tell me that in no uncertain terms. I respect their opinion. But I disagree with it.”
Joe Posnanski, in a blog on the Sports Illustrated website
GH: With these words JoPo lances all hope that he can do what I believe must be done with his book – turn his savior into a monster. 

“The way I see it: I have a responsibility to write the best, most insightful and most honest book I can possibly write about Joe Paterno. That’s what I signed up for. I’m not backing down from that because of this awful, evil situation. I’m also not walking away from a life and a man.”
Joe Posnanski, in a blog on the Sports Illustrated website
GH: Here is the JoPo I have come to know and whose work I have come to so easily dismiss. This is the fence-sitting, cherub of a writer who sees no evil and writes no evil. This appears to be the biography Penn State fans will love and those with an objective conscience will loath.

“Posnanski contrasted Paterno’s ‘full life’ with ‘a single, hazy event involving an alleged child molester.’ That description of a ‘hazy’ event again drew criticism. Since then, Posnanski has truly turned silent about Paterno.”
Noam Cohen, NY Times
GH: It is interesting to me how JoPo has reacted to the public criticism he has received since his comments were tweeted from that Penn State class room last year. He has withdrawn. He has closed down. He has refused comment. How odd of a choice for a man who wishes so much to be a voice. 

“Am I writing a biography or am I writing a book about a tragic ending? It is an incredible ending and frame for the book, but it is not the whole book. The worst thing you can do with a book of history or biography is put it in a temporal frame that will be overtaken, that captures a zeitgeist that will not last.”
David Maraniss, author of biographies on Bill Clinton and Lombardi, on the dilemma JoPo faces in incorporating the Penn State scandal into Paterno’s biography, NY Times
GH: I disagree with Maraniss. While the public only learned of these insidious crimes on Paterno’s watch late in his life, that doesn’t mean his life, his morals, his character were not the reason that decades of sadistic behavior by his friend and defensive coordinator were allowed. JoPo has the unique chance to enlighten the world to what went on in Happy Valley and why.

“It is Sandusky’s trial, not Paterno’s. But it will reveal the fruits of months of prosecutorial investigations into the institutional failures of Penn State, including the actions and inaction of Joe Paterno. We will learn more than we ever dreamed about the coach’s role in the State College Kingdom over the last decade. None of that will be in Posnanski’s book.”
Barry Petchesky, on Sandusky’s trial taking place this summer after JoPo said his book will have been completed, DeadSpin.com
GH: Simon and Shuster moved up the release date for this book by almost one year. Keeping the original release date would have allowed for the Sandusky trial and its findings to be included in the Paterno book. Wow.

“The timing just confirms what we’ve long known: that Joe Posnanski’s love letter to Joe Paterno will be a sunny fantasy of a profile, dealing with the very hard questions by avoiding them.”
Barry Petchesky, writer, DeadSpin.com
GH: Say it ain’t so, Joe. Or at least say something. 

and Twitter / greghall24

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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58 Responses to OTC: Joe Posnanski’s Book On Paterno Is Reportedly Finished But Far From Complete

  1. kchoya says:

    Greg: I’m not sure why you’re disagreeing with Maraniss. It seems like you agree with him: the Sandusky scandal should not be ignored in JoePo’s book. It won’t take up the entire book, but it will be (as Maraniss puts it) “an incredible ending and frame for the book.” I think that’s the right approach to take. There will be (and already have been) plenty of words written about Paterno and Sandusky. JoePo’s challenge is to provide a detailed portrait of Paterno with Sandusky playing a big role in shaping the writing.

    • Greg Hall says:

      kc, My thought is that I am not so sure that the Sandusky scandal should not be the focus of this book. JoPo lived within the walls of Penn State for a year and had unique access to the same environment that might have allowed these unspeakable crimes to occur. Maraniss talks about this scandal being the frame of the book, which I do agree with. But he too quickly states that it should not be the whole book. Unfortunately for both Joes, I believe it is the whole book.

  2. Huskerfloyd says:

    While I used to love his work for the most part, Posnanski was the absolute wrong guy in the wrong place when this scandal broke. His eternal optimism and hero worship will likely turn this disgusting story into a lovefest for Paterno. Imagine what could have been had the unhinged Buzz Bissinger been assigned this project instead of Posnanski.

    • Gavin says:

      I would imagine Posnanski had already accepted the advance from the publisher. Additionally, he was the guy who had all the notes and tapes from the work he’d done prior to the scandal breaking. I can’t imagine Posnanski being willing to give back the advance or surrender his notes and tapes. Simon & Schuster could have told him “keep the money, we’re gonna go with Bissinger,” but I can’t imagine that Paterno would be willing to re-do those interviews (or that anyone associated with the program under him would have been willing to talk after the scandal broke) or that any other writer would have gotten the access necessary to do the book.

    • Dave says:

      Bissinger is a tool. The guy for this book would be Gary Smith, a psychological genius who can walk a mile in anyone’s shoes without letting them off the hook.

  3. Gavin says:

    Jesus, Greg. At least read the book first. Your antipathy toward Posnanski is noted but give the guy a chance before you publicly roast him with stuff you absolutely don’t know to be true. I actually agree with you in expecting Posnanski (who I like to read) to not hammer Paterno but I’m at least willing to wait and see what the book says before killing the guy. You’re executing him and then pissing on his corpse without even knowing for certain he committed the crime.

    • Greg Hall says:

      True, I am making assumptions that JoPo’s book could prove to be false. I hope like heck I am made to look the fool here and not he. But I am not at all confident of that occurring.

      • shecky says:

        “I hope like heck I am made to look the fool here and not he.”

        Bullshit. You want nothing more than to sit back and be critical of Posnanski. Somehow it helps you deal with this envy that frequently overwhelms your work. Once again, Hall’s character (or lack of) is revealed.

  4. John Landsberg says:

    “A prophet in his own land…” Kansas City was lucky enough to have possibly the finest sportswriter of his generation here for several years and many people here acted like he was some second-rate hack. Some thought Jason Whitlock had more talent, which was a truly sad commentary on sports and journalism today.
    I’m confident JoPo’s book will be an honest commentary on one of the most influential people of the century. No one could do it better than Posnanski.

    • Gavin says:

      You may be right, but I’ve got five bucks that says that Greg will never admit it. Posnanski could publicly remove the skin from Paterno’s entire family, he could detail every meeting Paterno ever had with Sandusky and he could make the entire book nothing but unequivocal statements of condemnation for Paterno and Hall will still say “I don’t need to know that Paterno went to Brown University! JoPo is sugarcoating Joe “Bob Berdella of Happy Valley” Paterno’s entire legacy by pointing out that he went to an Ivy League school! If Posnanski had any interest in really telling the story of Joe Paterno, he’d speculate idly on whether Paterno ever asked Sandusky to procure little boys for Paterno to rape!”

    • Greg Hall says:

      John, It appears you and Gavin suffer from the same idol worship of JoPo that he does with JoePa. Posnanski is a richly decorated writer with a vast audience and following. That is a fact. I do not count myself among his fans or his writing style but I understand it has been very successful for him and pleasing to those who enjoy his work. I have no vendetta against the man as Gavin suggests. If JoPo writes what needs to be written about Paterno, I will applaud his work loudly. He just has yet to show me he has the guts to do what is right when it comes to his sports idols.

      • Gavin says:

        Now, hold on, Greg. I don’t mind being in the discussion seeing as I made myself a part of it, but if you’re going to drag my views in to prove a point, can I at least ask that you correctly describe those views?

        First, if you think that I “suffer from. . .idol worship,” I wonder what you think of actual religion. I don’t idolize the guy and it’s an inaccurate description of my views to say so. All I said was that I like reading him and that maybe you should actually read his book before you unload on the guy like you did. If you read my comments carefully, you will also see that I said that I agreed with your expectation that Posnanski will likely give Paterno the kid glove treatment but maybe we should let the book actually come out. In other words, I was critical of the guy. And this is “idol worship” in your mind?

        Second, only you know whether you have a vendetta against the man and I’m not in any position to judge what’s in your heart, but when you publish excoriating attacks like this regarding, again, A BOOK THAT HASN’T EVEN BEEN PUBLISHED, it suggests that maybe you’re not just a literary critic but have some sort of skin in the game. I recall that you once, on Hearne’s site, criticized Posnanski for how much money he spent at the Apple Store purchasing computers. So you can say you don’t have a vendetta against the guy all you want, but your actions, which are all I can go on, certainly suggest otherwise.

      • Juan De Guzman says:

        “I do not count myself among his fans or his writing style …”

        What kind of fractured sentence is this? Greg, you need an editor.

    • red says:

      People who read one or two JoPo pieces think, correctly, that he is a brilliant writer. People who read lots of his pieces think, correctly, that he writes the same thing over and over again.

    • S says:

      How is Paterno one of the most influential people in the country? He’s just a football coach, and one who hung on way too long and will be remembered in that capacity by an entire generation as a doddering old man who couldn’t step aside.

      He was certainly influential in Happy Valley, and I’m not sure he used that influence for proper means. Sure, he may have thrown some money around for noble deeds. But after the Sandusky revelations, we learned he was also a man who would use his influence to cover for the misdeeds of his football team. And in the case of Sandusky, he abdicated his influence and chose to do the bare minimum to avoid the glare of scrutiny on his program at the expense of at least one kid’s life and well-being.

      • P says:

        Wow, the last sentence you wrote tells it all. Such a man of deed and influence and when it counted most and was most important, he did the bare minimum. Truly sad.

    • Hot Carl says:

      “No one could do it better than Posnanski.” – Leawood John Landsberg

      Never one to shy away from showing your ignorance, are you, John?

      • John Landsberg says:

        Can’t tell you how much I respect a guy who takes cheap shots under a fake name like you do. And you are a sports expert because you once waited on an athlete’s ex-wife’s table? Cool.

        • Hot Carl says:

          I waited on an athlete’s ex-wife’s table? Odd, I’ve never been a waiter so I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

          And I took no cheap shot, I merely pointed out your ignorance.

    • smartman says:

      I saw JoPo as more of a third rate hack.

  5. M says:

    I’m willing to wait and see with Posnanski’s book — the opportunity he has in front of him is to examine in himself and in a public figure the truth about all of us: we deceive others about what we really are and worst of all is when we deceive ourselves. What does that say about the human condition? Is this how we ought to be? And what is this oughtness we are all so acutely aware of in others but curiously ignorant of in ourselves? If Posnanski chooses to write THAT book and examine THOSE questions, he will have written a tome for the ages. If he fails to take that on it won’t be because of any frailty specific to Posnanki’s character. Rather, it will once again illuminate the fallenness of us all.

  6. Merle Tagladucci says:

    I’d rather read Petrino: Arkansas Tales.

  7. GB says:

    $750k. How’s that taste Greg?

  8. Java Man says:

    At least admit that most of us will never read the book. We’ll read the juicy, lengthy, excerpts and draw our conclusion of the work of the author. With the exception of what may come out during the Sundusky trial, the picture of Paterno has already been painted.

  9. Jim says:

    There are certain mistakes that people make that can be forgiven and atoned for in this life and the next. These mistakes are the ones that the words, “I’m sorry”, are used to mitigate. We all make them. Hopefully, the totality of our life’s good deeds far outweigh these transgressions. In the case of child molestation or the cover-up of said molestation, no amount of good deeds, community service, life’s work or any other humanitarian work can supercede this despicable act. The shaping of lives combined with the destruction of lives is incongruent. Any attempt by JoPo to state otherwise is deplorable. Period.

  10. b12 says:

    Meh. Much ado about nothing. Java has it right. Most of us will never read the book.

    Deadspin (or gh) will have the excerpts…that’s what we’ll read, and life will go on.

    Does anyone actually buy books anymore?

  11. Mark X says:

    … will save my money for the unauthorized book on Paterno…. authorized biographies are ALWAYS puff…

  12. Rick says:

    I guess a few simple questions to you Greg. If a book was written about you would you want the worse thing in your life or the worse mistake you made to be the focus of the book of just a chapter in the book?

    I wouldn’t want a Joe Pa book to ignore the scandal but I’m not sure if it should be the focus.

    My second question is you use to write for the KC Star. If you were accused of sex crimes against young boys should I then be pissed off at your editor?

    Heck its clear that Glazer is a sleaze ball thats even wrote about a young teen boy (which he later retracted) watched him having sex with his mother. But does that mean i should hold Hearne responsible for Glazers acts? Though obviously the fact he allows him to write says something about Hearne.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Rich, Neither question appears to be relevant but…

      Q1: What the subject of a book or a news report wants is irrelevant — whether that subject is me, you or Paterno. What I want from the author or reporter is the truth.

      Q2: Only if the editor attempted to cover up my crimes or report them in such a way that excused them.

      • rick says:

        And I think you will get the truth. Just a watered down verision of it.

        I don’t believe there is any evidence that Joe Pa covered up the crimes. I think its open to debate in regards to his reporting but more so the lack of follow up.

        Also the questions were relevant because they were at the point of your arguements. Joe should be held responsible or what his assitant did and the book’s focus should be on it. Those were your points correct?

        Finally the name is Rick not Rich but I wish I was RICH

    • smartman says:

      Those who enable are just as guilty as those that do. So at least Hearne has something in common with Joe-Pa

  13. Cliffy says:

    Yet another case of Greg “never was” Hall flinging shots from the cheap seats.

    • Jim says:

      And here you sit in the CHEAPER seats flinging it right back, Cliffy. Get some perspective and realize exactly what website you are on. What’s next? Going to the comment section of chiefs.com and criticizing everyone for talking about the Chiefs?

      • Cliffy says:

        Well, Jim. Since you seem interested, here’s my perspective.

        Greg is quick to criticize reporters and announcers for their unwillingness to ask the tough question. Yet, the ballsiest thing I can recall Greg doing is goading his way on to Nick Wright’s show. (Who can forget that 10 minutes of broadcast ineptitude?)

        He also takes every opportunity to pan Posnanski’s fluffball writing. Yet it’s OK for Greg to wax syrupy nostalgic about basball or to write lightweight (although entertaining) articles about his marathon runs.

        Thanks, but I’ll stick with my “cheap seats” comment. Thanks also for your interest, but I think Greg can take care of himself.

        • Gavin says:

          Well said, Cliffy. Clearly I’m a Greg Hall fan because I’m here every fricking day, wasting god knows how much of my employer’s time. I probably agree with Greg about half the time but he’s empowered us to call “bullshit” when we perceive it and, while I’m not in the camp that says he’s jealous of Posnanski, I do think there is more enmity than he’s letting on.

          But the most important point is that he can take care of himself. He does slam Posnanski for writing treacle (which is a completely true charge, by the way) but his annual baseball poem, something I actually enjoy quite a lot, is the Posnanskiest effort I’ve ever seen, right up there with the actual Posnanski.

          • Jim says:

            Cliffy, I make no attempt to defend Hall. I’m simply pointing out that the VERY thing this website is intended to provide is a forum for differing opinions regarding those in the sports world and those making news in the sports world. “Flinging shots from the cheap seats” is exactly what Hall does and it is what makes this forum entertaining. Pehaps you would prefer everything be sunshine and roses. Hall is a critic that discusses media, personalities and events. No different than a movie critic might pan a particular movie. Face it, we are all in the cheap seats of sports. I’ll reserve the right to express my opinion and gladly give everyone else the ability to do the same. Why should Greg be any different? It’s entertainment, not life.

    • The Word says:

      There is a reason why Greg is a media critic and not a member of the media. Lack of talent has a lot to do with it….

      And since we’re quoting Deadspin.com. I found this gem from A.J Daulerio about Greg Hall…

      http://deadspin.com/5592824/the-mysterious-trouble-with-jason-whitlock

      “I emailed Jason the day after looking into Hall’s piece and told him I was moving away from the story because the claims lacked credibility and I wasn’t about to light him up based on the claims of a possibly deluded individual.”

      Deluded individual…yeah…that’s Greg Hall.

  14. Merle Tagladucci says:

    Even though I was never a fan of Posnanski’s Norman Rockwell vision of the sports world, at least his voice is consistent and you know what you’re getting. I pick up the Star and read Mellinger and wonder if he even knows what kind of writer he wants to be. There’s no voice.

    • Java Man says:

      Exactly, Merle. For years we had fans of Posnanski, or fans of Whitlock. Either way, they both generated water cooler discussions. Sam has been doing this gig for quite a while and I’ve yet to have someone ask “Did you read Mellinger today?”.

  15. smartman says:

    Greg maintains this blog for little or no money. We read and comment for free. The expectations should be pretty low.

    For Harlequin Joe to get $750K to churn out his wet dreams about Joe-Pa and for ANYBODY to consider it would be AUTHORITATIVE, with or without the Sandusky scandal is absurd. This book made JoPo wealthy. It will in no way establish him as a great writer.

    Joe is GREAT when it comes to unicorns, rainbows and white picket fences. Rosie O’Donnell has bigger balls than JoPo and probably would turn out a better Joe-Pa book.

    • Orphan of the Road says:

      I was a heretic in the ol’ Commonwealth, I didn’t care for Penn State. My BIL was in a picture on the front page of The NYT intercepting a pass for a touchdown against Penn State. He went to Lehigh. JoPa made much of his legend off much smaller schools.

      With what has happened recently, how can any true bio be written? Maybe Tony Bill will get some ink. JoPa threw him under the bus once his drinking interfered with his play. Until then, a six-pack in the shower for an 18-year-old was OK by Joe.

      JoPo’s story may be the prelude to the story. The myth, the legend, a crack to splinter the whole dream.

      I like Po’s writing as prose but the depth of his pool would hardly wet your feet.

      • Juan De Guzman says:

        Tony Bill, producer of “The Sting”, bit actor in such classics as “Shampoo” and “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” played for JoPa?

    • Phaedrus says:

      Yep. You got the doers, the critics ( sports radio host), the critic of the critics (greg), the critics of the critic of the critics (commenters on this blog), etc etc

      It’s turtles all the way down…

  16. haw says:

    Jeez, I read this in the NY Times two days ago. Thanks for the rehash.

  17. Harwood Benjamin says:

    I find it amusing that the author of “…Baseball is…” finds fault with Joe Posnanski because his writing is sappy and sentimental. Perhaps you could delight us with a version of “…Joe Posnanski is…”

    • Greg Hall says:

      HB,
      My Baseball Is… sonnet is an unabashed love letter to baseball. Sappy as hell some might say. No argument there. But while I believe a writer should exhibit a consistent voice, he/she should also show an ability to express a range of emotions. To say I write with a soft nostalgic edge consistently would in my mind be inaccurate.

      I read JoPo and I know what to expect every time. Some revel in his dependable consistency and his storytelling. He just plows the same ground over and over again too often for my tastes.

      • Harwood Benjamin says:

        Much of Posnanski’s writing is predictable, and that has never bothered me very much. Part of the role of a newspaper columnist is that you have an idea where they’re coming from before you read them, whether it’s Jason Whitlock, Sam Mellinger or Yael Abouhalkah. Where I think Posnanski fails is his lack of honesty….in his early Star years, several times he would write with writerly emotion and passion about local stuff and it was obvious he was pandering and faking because he had not been here long enough to develop those positions honestly. That told me he was faking it. He’s a good writer, so he’s good at faking it, but in any subsequent column, I suspected I was getting a writing gimmick instead of a honest view of the world. That’s why the Paterno Downfall is the perfect storm that will reveal whether Posnanski can overcome his worst tendencies and habits and deliver a warts-and-all assessment of Paterno…because the whole world now knows that the warts are definitely there.

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