[Photo Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images]
Five months after that night and two-and-a-half months after Paterno’s death from lung cancer at age 85, the Penn State community’s anger at the coach’s dismissal might be less visible but is no less visceral. The story of how the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case escalated into a Penn State scandal and a Joe Paterno scandal before a rapt national audience seems, in retrospect, a deceptively simple narrative: The alleged rape of a young boy, witnessed by a graduate assistant inside the Penn State locker room showers, was not thoroughly investigated by the university after the head coach told his superiors about it.
The untold story, though, is about bare-knuckle Pennsylvania politics, old grudges and perceived slights. It involves a stagnated child sexual abuse investigation that, to some, took a backseat to higher-profile cases and a gubernatorial campaign. It involves a head football coach who knew too little and, still, failed to do enough. It includes a passive school board of trustees that for months ignored a lurking controversy and then, under pressure to preserve Penn State’s reputation, quickly fired its legendary coach without ever talking with him.
Through it all, the central character was [governor Thomas W.] Corbett. “Something not very good happened,” he told reporters on Nov. 9, hours before he urged his fellow trustees to fire Paterno. “We have to … take the bull by the horns and fix it. Quickly.” Publicly, Corbett made it clear that he thought he was the most qualified person to fix Penn State.
A 62-year-old Republican, Corbett is a blunt-spoken former prosecutor whose political career has been built pursuing powerful people who, he has said, “believe they are beyond the law.” And his role in the Penn State scandal, fraught with potential conflicts, placed him in a remarkable position. As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, he investigated Sandusky for nearly two years but failed to make an arrest. But then, as governor, he blamed the university’s leaders for not doing more. One was Paterno, who some board members believed wielded too much power. The other was university president Graham B. Spanier, a 16-year veteran and Corbett rival who had become a vocal opponent of the governor’s efforts to slash higher education funding.
To some, Corbett relished the opportunity and had even planned to play a role in managing the crisis. Eight days before the Sandusky grand jury presentment was released this past November, Corbett’s staff booked hotel rooms in State College. Becoming governor had made Corbett a trustee, and he had decided to attend his first board meeting, after missing the first four. During those days of crisis in State College, he lobbied for the ouster of Paterno and Spanier, ending with that conference call on Nov. 9. And when he was on campus the next day, after Spanier’s resignation and Paterno’s firing, he celebrated the leadership changes. “Throughout this whole process, I felt he had some ulterior motive,” a trustee says of Corbett. “Most trustees felt uncomfortable
[Photo Credit: Washington Post]
Over at The Atlantic, check out this commentary about the difference between comic books and comic book movies from Jonathan Lethem (something I’ve been thinking about with the Tintin movie coming out soon):
The movies insist on transforming a form into another form, and yet the results fall into a hideous void between them. The mystery of the evocativeness of a comic book panel, the stillness-in-action, and the secret silence of the gutter between the two panels, is something that’s just fundamentally inaccessible to film.
The nearest I’ve ever seen to someone really reaching for that was that really aggressive and sort of horrible Frank Miller movie, Sin City. Which was still compelling because they seemed to be aware of the problem, and were trying to seize control of it. But it’s a little bit like, playing rock and roll on a harp or something. Movies are actually a very, very poor fit for the comic aesthetic.
The entrancement of film is that the reading protocols are invisible. You give yourself to a film, ideally, in a gigantic darkened auditorium: and it washes over you. It makes its own reality inevitable. And you don’t have to ever think about your efforts in reading or constructing it. You can’t slow or speed up that experience (I mean, now technically you can, but you don’t want to, you want to succumb). It masters you totally.
The seduction of a comic is secretly the exact opposite. People don’t think about it, but you learn to read a comic book. It’s a very complicated reading protocol. A very active one. It’s like you’re in a damp world and you have to keep striking matches to light it up. You’re constantly working to decide—do I read the words in the panel, do I read the word in the box at the top, do I look at the picture, do I skip ahead and look at where the pictures are going to go later on, do I do it fast, do I do it slow, do I read every word, do I mainly see it? What am I doing here? You’re always deciding how to make the narrative come alive. It’s actually a much more complicated form of reading than reading text! Because you’re making these switches from the visual to the verbal. So one is a completely globally active reading protocol, and the other is this sublime, passive dreamlike surrender. And I don’t think you can ever get from one to the other. They’re almost opposite ends of the aesthetic experience.
The New Yorker’s recent compilation, The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from the New Yorker, is a fine and handsome collection but it is does not contain a single piece by John Lardner, which begs the question: Is Lardner the most neglected great sports writer of all-time?
Sure, Jimmy Cannon is overlooked these days and he was a legend during his time; Joe H. Palmer was on his way to a PHD in English Literature when he became a full-time chronicler of horse racing–which he did as well as anyone ever has–but he died young and his name is lost; and Lenny Shecter was a funny, irascible talent, the patron saint of cynicism and snarki, and he’s sadly known as just the “co-writer” of “Ball Four.” Shecter also died young.
John Lardner was painting a prose portrait of a legendary con man when he wrote: “On a small scale, Titanic Thompson is an American legend. I say on a small scale, because an overpowering majority of the public has never heard of him. That is the way Titanic likes it. He is a professional gambler. He has sometimes been called the gambler’s gambler.”
Lardner might well have been writing about himself, although calling him a writer’s writer is too limiting, not to mention entirely inadequate. In a career that spanned three decades, the ’30s through the ’50s, he wrote for The New Yorker about everything from movies and TV, to the invasions of Normandy and Iwo Jima. But it was as a sports columnist for Newsweek that Lardner left his deepest footprint, and he underscored it with long, brilliant pieces for magazines like True and Sport. His trademark, as Stan Isaacs, the former Newsday sports columnist recently pointed out, was a “droll touch — precise, detached.”
“Time has a way of dimming the memory and achievements of writers who wrote, essentially, for the moment, as writers writing for journals must do,” Ira Berkow, the longtime columnist of the New York Times, told me recently. “But the best shouldn’t be lost in the haze of history and John Lardner was a brilliant writer — which means, in my view, that he was insightful, irreverent, wry and a master of English prose.”
Al Silverman, who ran Sport magazine in the Sixties, edited Lardner’s once-a-month sports column in True for a year-and-a-half in the early ’50s. “We never did meet but talked over the phone about his piece every month,” said Silverman. “I don’t remember ever saying, ‘You made a little grammatical error here, John.’ Always it was me saying, ‘Another great one, John.’ And they all were wonderful.”
In the epilogue to a posthumous collection “The World of John Lardner” (1961), his friend Roger Kahn wrote, “Although most perceptive sports writers accepted him as matchless, sports writing was not the craft of John Lardner. Nor was it profile writing, nor column writing. After the painstaking business of reportage, his craft was purely writing: writing the English sentence, fusing sound and meaning, matching the precision of the word with the rhythm of the phrase. It is a pursuit which is unfailing demanding, and Lardner met it with unfailing mastery.”
Do yourself a favor and pick up the new Lardner collection. You won’t be sorry.
[Drawings by Walt Kelly]
Good piece by Pat Jordan on Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the New York Times Magazine this week:
Earnhardt and I were sitting on the sofa talking; his publicist sat on another sofa. We talked for two hours, while his publicist fidgeted, casting expectant glances at us. Earnhardt said nobody calls him Junior or Little E anymore, except his fans. “That’s off my back,” he said. He looked down at his hands while he talked. When I asked him why he races, he said: “I didn’t want to work for a living. What the hell am I gonna do with my life as Dale Earnhardt’s son if I don’t race? I was a mechanic in Dad’s dealership at 18, and those were some of my happiest days. But my name was Dale Earnhardt Jr., man. Working as a mechanic would’ve been a real pain. People saying: ‘What happened to you? You’re Dale Earnhardt’s son.’ ”
…What has been the hardest thing for him to deal with in his career?
He stared at his hands and said: “All my life I’ve been the smaller measure of the man. When my Dad died, I wanted to honor him. But I wanted to distance myself from him too. I wanted to get out from under being Dale Earnhardt’s son.”
Hot news for us Buster Keaton fans.
A new, double-disc edition (also available as a single Blu-ray disc) of Keaton’s 1928 “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” presents both the familiar, public domain print that has been a staple of film societies and television screenings for decades, and an alternate version, newly discovered in the Keaton estate archive, that uses different takes or different angles for many shots and is cleaner and sharper than the standard print. (It was common in the silent era to produce two different negatives, one for domestic and one for export use; in this case, it isn’t clear which is which.)
…After “The General” (1926) and “College” (1927), “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” was Keaton’s third costly failure in a row, and would prove to be the last film he would make for his own independent production company. Audiences had turned their back on him (In The New York Times the reviewer Mordaunt Hall described “Steamboat Bill” as “a sorry affair”), just as Keaton had turned his back on them, quite literally, at times, given his penchant for shooting himself from behind. Keaton invited neither the audience’s identification, as Lloyd did, nor its sympathy, as Chaplin did. He presented a closed-off, self-sufficient figure, his emotions, if any, hidden behind his famous stone face.
Here is the most famous shot from the movie (no such thing a tough guy actor these days when you see this):
I can’t wait to get this new DVD…
One of the most exciting events of the spring has been the recent launching of the SI Vault. Talk about an embarassment of riches. Dag. To my dismay, the site does not offer anything close to a complete author index, making finding stuff a frustrating experience at best. I can only hope that this is a temporary problem, because it would be a real shame for something as rich and varied as the SI archives to be needlessly difficult to navigate.
Still, here are a couple of gems for you as we wait for today’s game. No telling if the rain will mess with things this afternoon. It’s warm and foggy this morning and the sun is even shinning here and there in the Bronx. I’m gunna throw up this game thread now cause I won’t be around for the start of the game. If they get it in, Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the year. If there is a delay, grab another bowl of soup, and consider the following bag o treats from the SI vault.
Come Down Selector:
A Diamond in the Ashes: Robert Lipsyte’s highly critical take on the rennovated Yankee Stadium (April, 1976).
The Play that Beat the Bums: Ron Fimrite’s look back at the Mickey Owens game and the 1941 season (October, 1997).
Mickey Mantle: Richard Hoffer’s piece on the legacy of the last great player on the last great team (August, 1995).
A Real Rap Session: Peter Gammons talks hitting with Ted Williams, Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs from the Baseball Preivew issue (April, 1986).
Yogi: Roy Blount’s takeout piece on the Yankee legend (April, 1984).
No Place in the Shade: Mark Kram considered this portrait of Cool Papa Bell to be his finest work for SI (August, 1973). And while we’re on Kram, check out A Wink at a Homely Girl, his wonderful piece about his hometown Baltimore that appeared on the eve of the ’66 World Serious (October, 1966).
Laughing on the Outside: John Schulian’s fine appreciation of the great Josh Gibson (June, 2000).
And finally, He Does it By the Numbers: Dan Okrent’s landmark essay, you know, the one that “discovered” Bill James (March, 1981).
There, that should keep you busy for more than a minute.