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A rock and a hard spot

An irreverent look at the wild world of sports

Joe Paterno

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Even though CBS Sports, the Huffington Post and the Penn State student news website Onward State jumped the gun just a wee-bit on breaking the news, it's now very official.

Legendary college football coach Joe Paterno died last weekend from complications related to his treatment for lung cancer. Paterno was 85. There are few men in history who have done more for a sport or an institution of higher learning than Paterno did for football and Penn State. In remembrance of Paterno there has been a public viewing of the coach at the Penn State spiritual center this week, along with a ticketed public memorial planned for Thursday at the Penn State basketball arena.

Of course, there's also that disturbing chapter toward the end of the Paterno story where the once universally respected football coach was implicated and fried in the court of public opinion for protecting all-but-convicted child sodomite Jerry Sandusky. Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees in early November 2011 after Sandusky's arrest and the damning grand jury report that accompanied it. Nine days later Paterno's family announced his cancer diagnosis.

Not surprisingly, the shocking end to Paterno's tenure at Penn State - and the public realization that a figure held in such high regard by virtually everyone could have stood by and done what, in hindsight at least, feels like next to nothing while a man graduate assistant Mike McQueary allegedly witnessed raping a young boy in the Penn State showers still occupied an office inside the Penn State football facilities - led to widespread criticism of the aging coach. Equally unsurprising, a headline from The Onion on the day Paterno died sums up where much of the public seems to stand in the aftermath of the Sandusky story.

"Joe Paterno Dies In Hospital; Doctors Promise To Tell Their Superiors First Thing Tomorrow"


But like nearly everything in life, no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, the story of Joe Paterno is not something that can be judged in black and white.

The truth is messy and often blurred.

The death of Joe Paterno puts us between a rock and a hard place, at least when attempting to view it through the lens we've grown accustomed to in our societal dialogue - a lens, as rigid and cumbersome as one of the ones that made up Paterno's Coke-bottle glasses. A lens of black and white, and of absolute right and wrong. 

It's simply not that easy. It never will be. When searching for real truths in this world, it can't be.

Life often seems simple in retrospect. We should know by now it's not.

The reaction to Paterno's death can be taken as evidence. President Obama reportedly called Paterno's wife, Sue, and son, Jay, to offer condolences. Through an official White House statement, the president reminisced about first meeting Paterno and promised he and Michelle Obama would keep the winningest coach in Division I history in their collective prayers. Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush also publically offered his family's condolences. And Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett issued a statement, saying Paterno, "confronted adversities, both past and present, with grace and forbearance." Corbett also ordered Pennsylvania flags to be flown at half staff for the fallen former coach.

Considering, in addition to his 409 career Division I victories, 37 bowl appearances, and 61 total years at Penn State (46 as head coach), Paterno is equally beloved around Happy Valley for his dedication to education and helping build the institution into what it is today, the outpouring of grief and acknowledgement that follows the coach's death is expected. Paterno's much heralded dedication to morality, ethics and education on and off the field is legendary, and the good deeds of Paterno's life include the donation of millions of dollars by he and his wife to the college and funding the library that now bears the couple's name. I'm not the first person to point any of this out.

But, concentrate as we may in this time of death on Paterno's unquestioned contributions to athletics, education and the lives of countless students and student athletes, his role - and moral failing - in the Sandusky situation can't be glossed over.

And, for many, that will be the only thing that matters.

As Mike Bianchi opined on his Orlando Sentinel blog shortly following Paterno's death:

Sadly, Penn State legend Joe Paterno is dead.

Even sadder is how he willbe remembered.

He coached Penn State for nearly half-a-century and won 409 games, more than any other head coach in major college history.

He donated millions ofdollars of his salary back to Penn State University.  ...

But Paterno will likely be remembered more for one monumental failure more than he will for all of those magnificent successes. He will be remembered foroverseeing perhaps the biggest scandal in college football history more than he will for all of his good will and great victories.He will be remembered for being fired after hefailed totell police about a child sex abuse allegation involving hislongtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was recently arrested and charged with sexually molesting multiple young boys.

To some Paterno will be, and will always be, a hero.

To others, he'll be the exact opposite.

The truth, of course, will be found in the middle - trapped amongst the gray matter and subtleties.

While set on a larger stage, and played out before more people, the story of Joe Paterno is like the story of humanity - some of it good, some of it great, and some of it horribly regrettable.

Perhaps, with time and perspective, that's what JoePa will be remembered for.

But I wouldn't bet on it.


Oh shit. Jay Cutler and Kristin Cavallari are having a fucking baby. Google it. I'm not kidding. After calling off their engagement not long ago, the petulant couple recently got the band back together and re-engaged. Now comes news of a Cutler-Cavallari spawn - which the couple divulged to People in one of those exclusive statement-type-things that famous people make when they're having kids or going to rehab. Not only is the couple now obviously tarnished in the eyes of most Tim Tebow supporters for flagrantly engaging in premarital sex, but Cutler seems to be a risk taker on the field AND in the sack. A day after Cutler and Cavallari broke the news, The Chicago Sun Times was already reporting the pregnancy came as a surprise to the couple. The headline:"Baby wasn't in game plan for Jay Cutler, Kristin Cavallari." Classic. According to the Sun Times' story, which cites an unnamed source close to Cavallari, the couple, while caught by surprise, is "almost giddy" about the pregnancy. Which is a good thing. You don't want to see what it looks like when Jay Cutler is fully giddy. ... San Francisco 49ers wide receiver and backup kick returner Kyle Williams, now infamous for botching two punts in last weekend's NFC Championship game - one which directly led to the Giants game-winning field goal in overtime - reportedly received death threats from angry fans following the game. This, according to a story by ESPN in which Williams' father, Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, questions the "culture of sports as it stands" because of the threats on his son's life. Somewhere Bill Buckner nods his head and agrees.  ... Still, though, Williams shouldn't have muffed those punts. ... BREAKING NEWS: Thank fucking god you're not Billy Cundiff. .. Speaking of things that ultimately disappoint, the NFL Pro Bowl is this weekend in Hawaii. Too bad everyone knows the Pro Bowl is the very definition of lame. Even the players don't want to be there. The league practically has to beg fools to play. I mean shit - I'm pretty sure David Garrard the starting quarterback for the AFC.  ... Finally this week, according to a story by the Associated Press, new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is considering changing the name of his recently-acquired franchise as well as its uniforms. As the AP story points out, the team was established in 1962 as the Colt .45s, but changed its name to the Astros in 1965 when moving into the Astrodome. Naturally, here at Cup Check we're REALLY hoping they go back to the Colt .45s. And Billy Dee Williams throws out the first pitch of the very first game. And everyone in attendance gets a free 40-ouncer of Colt 45 which they proceed to drink until it gets warm. Because all of the above would be awesome.

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