Paterno's disgrace like no other

August 15, 2012, 4:13 pm
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Joe Posnanskis upcoming book on Joe Paterno has been universally slagged as a valentine to a disgraced man, based on no readings at all. Hey, we are a community of pre-judgers, and no matter how bad we are at it, we do it cheerfully anyway, typically on command.Or have you never asked, What do you think the Giants are going to do in September? or Will the 49ers get to the Super Bowl?But the brief GQ excerpt of the book is actually a look at a man who dies of disgrace in slow motion, and not the love letter to the image he crafted. And the one paragraph that shows him in the most horrible moment of self-realization makes all the pre-criticisms of the book moot.On Thursday (the day after his firing), 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 (his son), I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it's gone.You are not required to have sympathy for him even now. The misdeeds are too great, the misplaced priorities too horrendous. His disgrace is well-merited.But this is no love letter from Posnanski, as had been feared. This is a train wreck from the view of the engine, a look at the depths of disgrace that Chad Johnson couldnt possibly match in HBOs Hard Knocks when he was cut on camera by the Miami Dolphins after allegedly assaulting his soon-to-be-ex-wife Evelyn.Who, weirdly enough, he was going to appear on a VH1 reality show come September. Live by TV, die by TV, its all the same, because theyll both have new shows eventually. It is the nature of the beast.But there will be no new show for Paterno, not that there should be. Posnanski is allowed to capture him confronting his own doom, once and for always, and there is something both devastating and forlorn in all that, something television and the law of the observer effect cannot recreate.The observer effect states roughly that measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the systems, a scientific way of saying that if you know you are watched doing something, it changes what you do. Johnson knew HBO was in the room when he was cut, because Johnson is a child of the age of intrusion television, and he reacted in full knowledge that he was being watched, and had the time to reinvent himself or his surroundings with time.Paterno knew he had no time left. He was dying, all he had known was being demolished, and his name and reputation was being reduced to rubble, not one brick at a time, but in an enormous explosion, and he would never be able to repair it. He may have been delusional about his importance, or his sense of his morality, but he knew what hed done, he did it anyway, and he was reaping a horrible whirlwind.You see, theres disgrace, and then theres disgrace. The difference was that in Paternos case, there was no TV camera there to somehow trivialize it, or promise a new exciting episode. This was his end, as captured not by a camera but a man with a pen. It will be remembered far longer than Chad Johnsons last HBO cameo for that very reason.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for