Top newsmakers for 2012: No denying that everyone talked about Skip Bayless

When I launched ShermanReport on April 16, I had some initial concerns that there might not be enough fresh content to do a daily site.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

There’s so much territory to cover, it can be overwhelming at times. For a solo performer, it is a challenge to keep up. It’s never dull, that’s for sure.

As 2012 nears a close, I’m going to reflect on the year in sports media this week. Today, I begin with newsmakers. My criteria is people who were interesting, intriguing, controversial, and generally seemed to be in the news cycle, for better or worse.

Here we go:

Skip Bayless: Yes, Skip Bayless. I can see your eyes rolling, but name me someone who has generated more sports media talk?

I know he is extremely polarizing, and he routinely gets obliterated from the critics. Twitter nearly exploded when he got nominated for a Sports Emmy.

This isn’t to say that Bayless and First Take rank as the best in 2012. The latest episode involving Rob Parker off-mark comments about Robert Griffin III are an example why many people feel the show is a stain on ESPN. A blow to its credibility.

However, whenever the topic is sports media in a podcast or elsewhere, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when the discussion didn’t include Bayless and First Take. My former Chicago Tribune colleague receives a remarkable amount of attention for a mid-morning show on ESPN2. Not exactly prime time. Love him or hate him, people tune in to hear Bayless’ and Stephen A. Smith’s views. The show continues to do a strong rating and Bayless has nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, up from 550,000 in April.

More so, athletes react over what he has to say. Kevin Durant, Jalen Rose, Charles Barkley, and Terrell Suggs, to name a few. Again, somebody must be listening.

In a Q/A I did with Bayless in April, I asked if he saw himself wearing the black hat. He said: “The thrust of our show is people trying to take me down. They just want to see me lose. That’s why they love Stephen A (Smith). He calls me Skip “Baseless.” Fine. Then I quickly prove to the audience that I’m not baseless and win the argument from him, using live ammo, real facts that he can’t refute.”

Will Bayless be at the top of the list again in 2013? I wouldn’t bet against him.

Bob Costas: Costas hit a milestone birthday, turning 60. While it’s just a number, he continued to define his status as perhaps the sportscaster of his generation in 2012. He tied it all together in hosting yet another Olympics for NBC. Even more so, he stepped out on controversial issues: The failure to do a memorial of the slain Israeli athletes at the Olympics and his anti-gun commentary during halftime of a Sunday night game. If sports has a social conscience and voice, it is Costas.

Mark Lazarus: Unlike his predecessor Dick Ebersol, the NBC Sports president took a low profile in being at the helm for his first Olympics. While the tape delay issue had viewers screaming, they still watched in record numbers. Bottom line: The Games even turned an unexpected profit for NBC. Lazarus didn’t have to say much more than that.

John Skipper: The ESPN president oversaw the network’s buying spree in 2012, locking in important long-term rights deals. Skipper also is refreshingly frank. He earned plaudits for admitting that ESPN went overboard with its Tim Tebow coverage.

Joe Posnanski: No sportswriter faced a more intense spotlight than Posnanski. His much-anticipated book Paterno was roundly criticized. The response was so extreme, Posnanski did limited interviews and virtually no public appearances. As a result, his move from Sports Illustrated to being the signature name for the SportsOnEarth site received little fanfare.

Clearly, Posnanski’s book was hurt by a deadline that was moved up to cash in on the timeliness of the story. But even worse, he appeared too close to Paterno and his family to write an objective book that this subject required.

Michelle Beadle: After several months of over-the-top speculation about her future, Beadle bolted ESPN for a package at NBC. She shined in a hosting role at the Olympics. Always entertaining, Beadle will add a new show at NBC Sports Network in 2013.

Erin Andrews: Speaking of over-the-top, Andrews also left ESPN and signed on at Fox Sports. The big lure was a chance to host a primetime college football studio show in advance of Fox’s Saturday night game. Alas, Andrews and the show generally got panned. Look for some changes in a second attempt in 2013.

Chris Berman: Speaking of polarizing figures, it’s often target practice on Berman. His act, once unique and fun in another decade, now is viewed as old and tired. It’s almost as if he has become a characterization of himself. If only he listened to the many people who have to be begging him to tone it down.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch blew him up several times. Following Berman hosting the NFL draft, he wrote: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain.”

Of the critics, Berman told Michael Hiestand of USA Today: ”I just talk to people everyday walking down the street,” he says. “That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

That is quite true. He is not anywhere close to comparing his situation to Ted Williams’.

As for ESPN making any changes with Berman? Don’t count on it. He signed a long-term deal in 2012.

Jim Rome: Another escapee from ESPN, Rome took his act to CBS, where he was given many platforms. His daily show on CBS Sports Network reaches a limited audience simply because the network still doesn’t register in the mind of most sports viewers. He recently launched a weekly show on Showtime. We’ll see how that goes. In a few weeks, he will take his radio show to the new CBS Sports Radio Network.

The biggest Rome news occurred when he got in a flap with NBA Commissioner David Stern. It stemmed from a poorly-worded question about whether the draft was fixed.

The move to CBS clearly is a work in process for Rome. He knew it would take some time. However, he will want to see some progress in 2013.

Jeff Van Gundy: Van Gundy has emerged as a star for his blunt, honest analysis of the NBA for ESPN. You have to listen closely because he is capable of saying anything at any given moment. He wasn’t shy about criticizing the network when it backed out of a deal to hire his brother, Stan. He’s become one of my favorites.

Bill Simmons: ESPN’s franchise man on so many different platforms was given another toy by being added to NBA Countdown. The studio show is a work in progress, but Simmons’ addition has made for a different feel. A basketball junkie, he has a unique and at times quirky perspective on the game. I have found myself listening to hear what Simmons has to say.

Tim McCarver. The announcer called his 23rd World Series, a record. He also received the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, an honor that was long overdue.

John Clayton: Who knew that the 58-year NFL analyst wore a ponytail, worshipped Slayer, and lived with his mother? The cult of John Clayton grew with one of the year’s best commercials. It even received a tweet from LeBron James.

Darren Rovell: Hey, somebody actually jumps to ESPN. What a concept. Rovell left a gig at CNBC where he was the big fish in a little sports pond. Now he’s swimming among fish of all sizes in the ESPN ocean that is the Pacific. The move has some risks, but Rovell felt when ESPN calls (a second time for him), you dive in.

Frank Deford and Vin Scully: Let’s finish with two legends who still are going strong. Deford wrote his memoirs in a terrific book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. As you would expect from Deford, it was entertaining and insightful, covering more than a generation of sports writing. At age 74, Deford still goes strong with his commentaries for NPR and work on Real Sports for HBO.

What can you say about Scully, the ageless wonder? Now 85, he gave us the best gift possible by deciding to return for yet another year in 2013. Remarkable.










Q/A with Sports on Earth execs: Why it isn’t Grantland; Luring Posnanski from SI as signature hire

Sports on Earth is another Grantland, right?

Like Grantland, SOE features a daily offering of select stories by top writers. It has a similar look. Grantland has Bill Simmons; Sports on Earth has Joe Posnanski. Both are the endless salad bowl when it comes to going long, longer, longest.

Yet Sports on Earth isn’t Grantland.

A veteran scribe put it to me this way: “The Grantland writer will write about his experience getting to the game. The Sports on Earth writer will write on the game.”

OK, that may be stretching it a bit when it comes to Grantland. The site does have quality writing about sports. But it also veers in pop culture and other areas that go beyond the arena.

Sunday, Grantland’s main headlines included posts on Adele, Tim Burton and Liam Neeson. All three couldn’t have been worse Sunday than my fantasy quarterback Cam Newton (you were horrible, Cam), but that’s about it when it comes to sports parallels.

Sports on Earth is just about sports. It will write on Coco Crisp (also had a rough day) getting a poor break on a ball as opposed to Breaking Bad.

SOE, a joint venture between USA Today Sports and MLB Advanced Media, debuted in August. The site features Posnanski, the headliner lured over from Sports Illustrated, Tommy Tomlinson, Gwen Knapp, Dave Kindred, Leigh Montville, Will Leitch, Shaun Powell, Chuck Culpepper, among many others.

With that kind of lineup, the content couldn’t help but be strong. But will it make for a successful site?

And looking to the future, has Sports on Earth secured the domain name for Sports on Mars?

I did a Q/A with SOE general manager Steve Madden and editor Larry Burke.

How did it happen that USA Today and MLB joined forces here?

Steve Madden: The idea for a sports site, and not just a sports site, but one very specific to the best writers on all kinds of sports news, is something that had been discussed on (MLB Advanced Media CEO) Bob Bowman and ( editor) Dinn Mann. It had percolated along here for a while.

The way the world works, Bob Bowman got to know Tom Beusse (president of USA Today Sports Media Group) because their sons go to school together. They started to kick around ways to work together. It seemed to make sense. BAM has this new technology and USA Today has been aggressive about building a sports destination. It seemed like a good idea to work together to do it.

How do you explain this site?

Larry Burke: I say it is built around great writing. Columns and quick analysis. We do some deeper dives. We’ll do some enterprise writing, like the piece Selena Roberts did on Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong.

We look at it as the idea of less being more. We all aspire to be a news site per se; a place where you come to check scores or headlines. We want to be on the news without a lot of clutter. You’ll find 5, 6, 7 things to read each day, and it’s easy to navigate through it.

We’ll have some surprises. As you develop a relationship with the site, you’ll say, ‘There’s something I didn’t expect to see. I’ll give it a shot because I like what I saw last time.’

You talk about clutter. Is there a feeling that some of these sites are too overwhelming and people stay away? Is this the counter to that idea?

Madden: I’m not sure that’s a counter to that idea. We don’t think people will say, ‘I’m just going to go there and not go to other sports sites.’ It’s just that a lot of sites are a mile wide and in some spots, an inch deep. We think there’s a real value proposition to providing a lot of focus on sports and the sports of the day.

Voices seems to be a key word There are so many voices out there. Talk about the important of having good voices that people want to read.

Burke: The phrase we kicked around a lot was ‘great writing with a point of view.’ Joe brings that unique voice. We looked for writers who didn’t have that quote-unquote take, but were able to step back and look at things in interesting, smart and sometimes different ways. When you’re writing on pieces in the news, there are a lot of choices. We know people have choices. Why would they come to us? How do we get our place in the universe? The bar is set high.

Joe Posnanski had a good job at SI. You must have done a good sales job to get him to come over.

Madden: The only other sales job I did better was on my wife. It wasn’t so much that I needed a big name. I wanted a name people would recognize because of the quality of his work. That’s why Joe has a following. Joe’s work is emblematic of what the best sportswriting can be. It is insightful, analytical. It’s really well done. He makes an emotional connection that’s really, really important. How can you go wrong? The other writers who have come along are also like that.

(Steve was told) Joe’s piece on Steve Sabol was the single best thing he read on that topic. That’s our goal, to deliver the single best piece on that topic. If that’s the goal, then you need to hire people like Joe Posnanski.

What’s your response when people say you want to be another Grantland?

Burke: It seems to come up a lot more outside these walls than inside. I can see why. Structurally, Grantland is a site about great writing existing in a larger entity: In a simplistic way, you can say we’re the Grantland of USA Today.

I never thought of it that way. I don’t think anyone here did. I personally feel the writing at Grantland is terrific. I feel there are a number of sites and publications that are doing great work. We’re not trying to knock anyone out of the way. We’re trying to pull up a seat at the table. Everyone here felt that there was a place for something like this.

Grantland does more with pop culture.

Madden: There are a couple of differences. They have the latitude to write about pop culture. We decided one of the things that makes us different is that we focus just on sports. Second part of it is the newsiness. Writing off news is pretty important to us.

What are the goals here? What’s reasonable to expect in this market?

Madden: We’ve only just started. One of the things I’m pleased about is the average time spent on the site. It’s 7 1/2 minutes. Because of the way we designed this thing, the central experience is about reading. Now we have an engagement story to tell, which is great.

The other encouraging metric is direct load. People like what they see and they’ve bookmarked it. They’re coming back daily. Those numbers are pointing in the right direction.







Costas interview with Posnanski: Author believes Freeh report flawed; wasn’t going to write a takedown book

Perhaps this is why Joe Posnanski is not doing a big media tour to promote his book Paterno. It would take too much out of him to repeatedly defend a coach nobody wants to hear being defended.

Posnanski appears Wednesday on Costas Tonight (NBC Sports Network, 9 p.m. ET). The 90-Minute Show Includes Costas’ full November 2011 interview with Jerry Sandusky from Rock Center with Brian Williams with never-before-seen footage.

Posnanski has done limited interviews since release of the book last week. You can see why from the Costas interview. There are tough questions to be answered.

Here are some of the more interesting segments.

On the Freeh Report being flawed:

Costas: “Without getting bogged down in the particulars, this is the essence of Louis Freeh, former FBI director‘s report. The conclusion: In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, Paterno, among others, but again Paterno is the figure that the public gravitates toward here, repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from authorities, the university’s trustees, the Penn State community and the public. If that is true, as Freeh concluded, it is indefensible.”

Posnanski: “Absolutely”

Costas: “You don’t believe that though.”

Posnanski: “I don’t believe that, no. I honestly don’t. I honestly believe that what Louis Freeh did, and I have no qualms with the Louis Freeh report, he had his goals and his role in this thing.”

Costas: “Well if you don’t think that’s true, you must have qualms with his report.”

Posnanski: “He didn’t talk to Tim Curley; he didn’t talk to Gary Schultz; he didn’t talk to Joe Paterno; he didn’t talk to Jerry Sandusky; he didn’t talk to Tom Harmon; he didn’t talk to Mike McQueary. He didn’t talk to any of the major players in this and I think, I understand why he went to those conclusions, and he did, but I believe the report is very incomplete and I do believe that as things come out, it’s going to emerge that some of the people who wrote some of the emails and so on are going to say that everything has been misspoken.”

“My feeling again is, and I’m really not looking to dodge because there are so many things that we don’t understand and hard to know, but I have many of the same facts that I reported on my own that are in the Freeh report – he jumped to conclusions that I cannot jump to. I mean, I jump to definitely there was a sense that Joe Paterno knew more than he suggested; there’s definitely a sense that Joe Paterno should have done more. But the cover up, the idea that he was actively following it, these sorts of things, I think they’re still, to me, they’re still up in the air.”

On the tough reviews for the book:

Costas: “Obviously there has been mixed reaction to the book. Among the reviews we’ve seen so far, this is the most extreme, Paul Campos at, ‘Paterno is a disgraceful book and a minor literary crime. To say Posnanski botches his journalistic and literary opportunity is akin to saying that the Titanic’s maiden voyage might have gone more smoothly.’ Let’s concede that that’s at one end, what criticism somewhere towards the middle of that, do you concede correct or fair?”

Posnanski: “I kind of felt like those guys in Spinal Tap there when you were reading that review. I think this is a book that as people get away from this, and are less emotional about it; they’ll see what I was trying to do in this book. I think that some people see it now, fortunately. But I think as time goes on and as people get less emotional about it, a lot of people who have written reviews, frankly, came in with the same opinion that they went out with. I’ve been, as you know, taking a lot of hits long before the book came out.”

On his feelings about Paterno:

Costas: “(According to public opinion) the only acceptable take is that Paterno was fully culpable in the most extreme interpretation, and that he was, prior to that, a fraud and a hypocrite and this doesn’t just invalidate the good he may have done, it exposes that good as a fraud.”

Posnanski: “Exactly, and I think that’s what certain people wanted. That’s not the story, that’s not the book. I wasn’t going to write THAT book. Somebody else can if they want. I wrote the honest book, the book that I believe is true. I believe that I had better access than I’ll ever get again for a book and I believe that I used it as well as I could.”

Costas: “What did you come away thinking? What is your bottom line on Joe Paterno?”

Posnanski: “I think really what I come away with is what a complicated life it was and what a big life it was.”

Costas: “Do you view him as a good man who made a tragic mistake, be it of omission or commission? Or is he less of a good man because of that mistake?”

Posnanski: “It’s somewhere in the middle. That’s a tough one. I don’t want to dodge it. I think he did a lot of good in his life and I think he did make a tragic mistake.”

Costas: “At his best, was he a good man?”

Posnanski: “Definitely. At his best, I think it’s too long and too distinguished and too many achievements to think that it was worth nothing.”

Bad blood: Whitlock rips former teammate Posnanski, Paterno book; questions ‘authenticity’

Let’s just say Jason Whitlock isn’t a member of the Joe Posnanski fan club.

There have been plenty of harsh reviews about Posnanski’s book, Paterno. But few were more vicious than the one written by  Whitlock.

Writing on, Whitlock writes:

Posnanski’s fluffy, 400-plus-page opus provides sparse guidance. What it inadvertently does, for the highly careful reader, is expose how a coach and a writer can sacrifice their integrity over time, one compromised decision at a time.

It’s difficult to discern what is most shallow in Posnanski’s book — the reporting, the access or the insight.

Later, he says:

Seriously, most puddles are deeper than “Paterno.”

It’s the antithesis of John Feinstein’s “A Season on the Brink” and Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights.”

“Paterno” is “A Tuesday with JoePa (and Guido).”

Yet this review goes deeper than the book. Whitlock and Posnanski were long-time columnists at the same time for the Kansas City Star. An impressive 1-2 punch, to say the least.

Apparently, Whitlock has some bad blood towards his former teammate. Here is a highly personal shot in the review:

Posnanski, the storyteller without ego according to his passionate band of sycophants, is center stage throughout “Paterno,” most often without good reason.

Wow, guess that makes me a sycophant. I am a fan of Posnanski’s work, even though I had problems with the book.

Whitlock doesn’t acknowledge his relationship with Posnanski in the review. However, in a tweet, he mentioned his Real Talk podcast in which he discusses “history w/ Posnanski.”

Much of the podcast is an interview with Stefan Fatsis, who also wrote a scathing review of Paterno for Finally, at the 42-minute mark, he addresses the Posnanski relationship.

He begins:

I hope people hear me in context and don’t think there is something horribly negative driving me in this opinion.

No, just negative. He continues:

I don’t dislike Joe Posnanski…I recommended that he get hired in Kansas City. Once I got an up-close and personal view of what Posnanski did in Kansas City, I had some doubts about the authenticity (of his work).

Whitlock then launches into a long story about a Kansas City boxer who died in the ring. He felt Posnanski and the Star sports editor undercut him about a sensitive issue with the boxer.

Whitlock then accuses Posnanski being a mouthpiece for Chiefs running back Priest Holmes during a contract dispute.

Whitlock then delivers his biggest punch at the end:

If you read Posnanski’s work close up–if you’re not some contest judge who only reads the work once a year–(he) reads differently….I see (the book) as loyalty to a paycheck. I see it as par for the course. Standard operating procedure. The promise of information, insight, access that just isn’t there under closer examination.

Whitlock, though, says he isn’t “bitter” about Posnanski. Just listen to the 15-minute diatribe and tell me if you agree.

Sure sounded like some nasty feelings to me.











Is Sports on Earth another version of Grantland?

ESPN’s Grantland has been around for just over a year and it already has an imitator. Impressive.

At first glance, the new Sports on Earth site looks to be another version of Grantland. After a soft launch during the Olympics, the site made its full-blown debut this morning. It is a new joint development venture between USA TODAY Sports and MLB Advanced Media LLC (MLBAM).

Sports on Earth has many of the same traits as Grantland. It will feature excellent writers writing about the predictable (the upcoming college and pro football seasons) and the unpredictable (Dave Kindred’s great piece on the 40th anniversary reunion of the 1972 U.S. basketball team that got screwed out of a gold medal).

The showcase star for Sports on Earth is Joe Posnanski. The former Sports Illustrated writer, who is in the headlines for his Paterno biography, wrote the welcome for the site.

He writes:

Today, we start up here at Sports on Earth, and we feel that electricity of the opening bell. The idea here is to build a sports website around great writing. That’s not exactly a new idea. There is a lot of great sports writing out there and has been pretty much since people carved sports figures on cave walls. But we think it’s a timeless idea. There are so many ways to enjoy sports in today’s high-definition, fantasy-sports, Twitter-saturated, 3-D-glasses world. And reading a great story, laughing at a fun analysis, getting angry at an opposing opinion, picking up a small insight that helps you enjoy the game more, joining in with the community of sports believers and storytellers and jokers  — we believe these are all a big part of the fun.

Later, he adds:

We all have the obvious hopes and ambitions about Sports on Earth, that it will be piercing and surprising and thoughtful and moving and ecstatic and a hundred other adjectives. But those hopes and ambitions are pregame talk, too. You know how at the beginning of sporting events they crank up “Let’s Get It Started” or “Start Me Up?” I cannot stand those songs. But at the beginning of games, I like them. Let’s get it started. Start me up.

I’m in favor of any new journalism enterprise these days, and doubly in favor of getting to read Posnanski on a regular basis. While he has taken some hits for his Paterno book, he is a prolific, insightful and entertaining writer.

Besides Kindred, the site has a piece from Leigh Montville, another one of the all-time greats. Will Leitch of Deadspin fame also is on board as a contributor.

Again at first glance, the big difference between Sports on Earth and Grantland is that Sports on Earth doesn’t appear as if it is going to veer into pop culture. Pop culture is part of Grantland’s label.

If people say Sports on Earth is another Grantland, that’s not a bad thing. Any outlet for good writers producing good, if not great, stories is fine by me.

It’s way too early to judge on one day. Let’s see how the site plays out.

Welcome to Sports on Earth. We’ll be watching and reading.





Paterno reviews aren’t kind: Time says ‘Bad timing’; Atlantic cites ‘failed defense’

I’m not the only one. The reviews have been tough on Joe Posnanski’s new book Paterno.

They cite many of the same themes I had in my review.

The Atlantic’s Allen Barra writes:

It’s not enough to say that Posnanski does not do well relating the facts of the Sandusky case and Paterno’s role in it. The truth is that he doesn’t really try. “Joe Paterno was fired,” he tells us at the end, “why and how the board [Penn State trustees] made its decision is not my story to tell.” If not Paterno’s biographer’s, one wonders, then whose story is it? And what is so complicated about that story?

Time and again, Posnanski writes as if it was his intention to make clear issues cloudy.

Like me, Sean Gregory of Time wasn’t all that interested in details of Paterno’s life prior to the scandal hitting last November:

As for the rest of the bio, the material not related to the Sandusky scandal and its fallout, covering the first 84 years, not the final couple of months, of Paterno’s life: I can’t speak to that part, because I haven’t read it yet. And I’m not sure I will any time soon.

That’s nothing against Posnanski, one of the best sportswriters in the country. It’s simply a timing issue. Posnanski started this project well before the scandal broke, and he in large part stuck to his original plans. “What follows is the story of Joe Paterno’s life,” he writes at the beginning of the book. But on the heels of the Freeh Report, which contained evidence that Paterno did know about the initial, 1998 allegation of Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior – he previously denied being aware of it – and that Paterno had more influence on Penn State’s handling of the allegations that he had previously let on, Paterno’s life story, familiar to most sports fans to begin with, doesn’t seem very germane.

Guy Cipriano of the Centre Daily Times writes that Posnanski failed to take full advantage of the access Paterno gave him:

The legal drama of the past nine months altered Posnanski’s project, which he reportedly received a $750,000 advance to pursue. But Posnanski, it should be noted, received access to Paterno that no other journalist had in the later stages of the longtime coach’s life. Paterno died of lung cancer on Jan. 22.

He did little with the access beyond rehashing Paterno’s on-field results and offering anecdotes from former players. The “Joe did this for me” stories add no additional layers to the book.  Besides timing, nothing separates “Paterno” from other biographies about the coach. The final stages of Paterno’s life are among his most fascinating yet the book offers few visuals of last season other than scenes outside his house after his firing.

Anybody who covered Penn State football in the past 15 years wanted nothing more than 15 exclusive minutes with Paterno. Many beat writers loathed the access Posnanski was granted. Few will envy what the access produced.

Dwight Garner of the New York Times:

“Paterno” doesn’t shy away from whatever truth is behind any of this stuff. But the author talks to many, many former players who felt lucky to know this man, who say he taught them about decency and hard work and changed their lives forever.

Was Paterno a phony? Someone once suggested something similar about the longtime Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden. Mr. Posnanski reprints a sportswriter’s response to that insinuation here: “Well, to do it that long, it’s one hell of an act.”

Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly:

Despite all of the man-hours Posnanski poured into his book and his unbelievable access to Paterno — the long heart-to-hearts with the ailing coach over his beloved handmade kitchen table — Posnanski doesn’t really unveil anything about the case that hasn’t been reported elsewhere. There are no scoops here. No “A-ha” moments. No dramatic, teary Barbara Walters-style confessions.

Paterno review: Posnanski book disjointed; hardly was objective observer

Clearly, this wasn’t the book Joe Posnanski wanted to write.

Posnanski wanted his version of Paterno to be an inside look at a legendary coach who did it the right way. The coach who was beloved throughout the country. Black turf shoes, rolled up pants and white socks. That Joe Paterno.

Posnanski would spend an interesting and insightful year in State College, Pa., hanging out with the coach and his family. Then he would channel all that research into a thoughtful writing process with Paterno hitting bookstores in time for Father’s Day in 2013.

That was the original plan until Jerry Sandusky became a household word.

Everything changed on that fateful November weekend. For Penn State, Paterno, and for Posnanski.

The end result is a hastily-rushed to market book that is disjointed at best and apologetic at worst. It probably couldn’t be anything else given the circumstances that Posnanski faced.

For starters, Posnanski wants us to view Paterno’s life in full. So after an opening chapter in which his introduces the Sandusky scandal, he veers in the coach’s life story, beginning with his roots in Brooklyn. There are tales of working with Rip Engle, his early days as a coach, and his quick rise to the top.

Under ordinary circumstances, it likely would be fascinating reading. And Posnanski is a terrific writer, one of the best in the business.

But nothing is ordinary since last November. All those details seem meaningless in light of what has transpired.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to cut to the chase. In reality, the book begins on page 247 with a chapter simply titled, “Sandusky.”

Really, does anything else matter?


Posnanski details the animosity between Paterno and his long-time defensive coach. There are some interesting revelations there. Long before any of the allegations hit, Paterno viewed Sandusky as being extremely immature and to have lost his drive and focus in the 90s.

Shortly thereafter, the name of Mike McQueary is introduced and the story of the incident he witnessed in the showers. And it all begins.

In the last section of the book, titled “The Final Act,” Posnanski does take readers into the Paterno home during those November days when everything exploded. He writes about how Paterno only wanted to focus on the upcoming Nebraska game, a game his children soon realized he never would coach.

Paterno is portrayed in this episode as old and out-of-touch. Perhaps he didn’t fully comprehend what was going on? He asks, “What is sodomy?”

However, the timing of the book’s release never allowed Posnanski to delve completely into the Freeh Commission findings that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s problem as early as 1998 and that he was part of a Penn State cover-up. The report certainly seems to suggest that Paterno lied even to his family.


Posnanski says he wanted to write “a truthful” book about Paterno. Perhaps in his mind, he did.

The last chapter, titled “Encore,” shows the disjointed nature of the book. It features vignettes of people recalling their memories of Paterno. They tell of the impact he had on their lives.

Posnanski, though, included a kitchen table conversation he had with Paterno after he had been fired. He writes:

“What do you think of all this?” he asked me again.

I had not intended to include this in the book. It was a personal moment between writer and subject, but as the story has played out, I decided it was important. I told him that I thought he should have done more when he was told about Jerry Sandusky showering with a boy. I had heard what he had said about not understanding the severity, not knowing much about child molestation, not having Sandusky as an employee. But, I said, “You are Joe Paterno. Right or wrong, people expect more from you.”

He nodded. He did not try to defend or deflect. He simply said, “I wish I had done more,” again.

I’m not sure why Posnanski questioned whether he should write that passage. It definitely needed to be included, although not necessarily in this section.

I also think Posnanski wanted to show everyone that he had confronted the coach about not doing more to stop Sandusky. To show he also came down on Paterno.

But didn’t it all seem a bit gentle to you? And what other conversations did Posnanski have on the subject of Sandusky and crimes? He had the access. How hard did he push the coach for the truth?


Posnanski hardly was an impartial observer. Clearly, he admired Paterno. And the family obviously liked him. If they didn’t, he wouldn’t have gotten access to the coach almost until the day he died.

At the end of the book, Posnanski quotes Paterno as calling him “Giuseppe.” That’s a term of endearment.

Clearly, there was a relationship here, a deep relationship. It comes through not only in Posnanski’s words, but also in pictures. I thought it was telling that the back inside cover photo showed Paterno being carried off the field by his players.

That picture, that’s the book Posnanski wanted to write. Unfortunately, the end of Paterno’s life changed everything.




Today Show interview: Posnanski says Paterno story, ‘very, very complicated’

After much anticipation, Joe Posnanski’s biography, Paterno, hits the bookstores today. I received my copy yesterday. There’s a lot of stuff to digest, and I’ll post a review tomorrow.

After being silent for so long, Posnanski is making the rounds. This morning Matt Lauer interviewed him on the Today Show.

From the interview, Posnanski said:

On how the book changed in mid-course: “The mission statement from the start was to write the most honest book I could about Joe Paterno. Obviously, the story changed dramatically at the end.”

On being inside Paterno’s home when the scandal hit: “It was such an odd place to be. I wanted to put the reader there.”

On how Paterno should be remembered: “I wrote 125,000 words on how he should be remembered. It is very, very complicated. If you read the book, you see how many people’s lives were changed by him. You can’t ignore those people. At the same time, you can’t ignore the evil of Jerry Sandusky. Joe Paterno, among others, was in position to stop him and didn’t. You can’t ignore any of that. To me, the book is the book, and the life is the life.”

Paterno book: Early reviews mixed; Full excerpt on GQ show coach being out of touch

The Paterno book hits the bookstores tomorrow. But thanks to an excerpt on GQ and some early reviews, feedback is starting to come in on Joe Posnanski’s effort.

Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote a column after reading the book. The headline for the piece reads: “Paterno bio is insightful and incomplete.”

He writes:

The book – I bought “Paterno” in a bookstore on Saturday, ahead of its  Tuesday publication date – is not a prosecutor’s brief against Paterno, and no  one should have expected one. Neither, though, is it a full-throated defense.  Given extraordinary access to the man, literally until his dying days, Posnanski  does what Posnanski always has done best as a writer: context and texture. As  everything around Paterno shook and then fell, you see a man and his family and  his confidants at the epicenter.

Whether you like the portrait or not, and whether you can even definite it  concisely – the best word here might be complicated – is beside the  point. The truth is that it is a portrait very much in three dimensions. In that  sense, Posnanski succeeds.

However, Hoffman believes Posnanski came up short in describing how Paterno handled the Mike McQuery situation and whether he knew about Jerry Sandusky’s crimes in 1998.

Hoffman writes:

To me, the key is 1998. If Paterno did know about those allegations, as the  Curley emails suggest, and he still did not act to alert authorities in 2001 (or  even recommended against contacting authorities), it changes everything – and  everybody knows it.

Posnanski makes a couple of passing references along the way but essentially  deals with those 1998 emails in one paragraph in the middle of the book. It does not seem enough.

Deadspin’s Dom Cosentino writes about the final chapter.

The book’s final chapter is a collection of unrelated anecdotes about Paterno as told by his children and several of his former players. Much of the chapter is light.

Cosentino then writes that during a session at Paterno’s house, the coach asks Posnanski his view on what he should have done.

From the book:

I had not intended to include this in the book. It was a personal moment between writer and subject. But as the story has played out, I decided it was important. I told him that I thought he should have done more when he was told Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy. I had heard what he had said about not understanding the severity, not knowing much about child molestation, not having Sandusky as an employee. But, I said, “You are Joe Paterno. Right or wrong, people expect more from you.”

He nodded. He did not try to defend or deflect. He said simply, “I wish I had done more,” again, and then descended into another coughing fit.

Curiously, that passage wasn’t in the GQ excerpts. If you recall, Sports Illustrated passed on running the excerpts. The magazine felt the material in the book didn’t measure up.

I disagree with SI’s decision, because the excerpts have been quoted everywhere. However, the GQ excerpts don’t foreshadow that there will be any new startling revelations in the book. If anything, they portray the coach as a rather out-of-touch old man who stayed around way too long.

When his son Scott first confronted his father about the charges against Sandusky on that November Saturday, Paterno’s reply was to say, “I’ve got Nebraska (the next game) to worry about. I can’t worry about this.”

There was this telling passage in which Paterno had to be persuaded to read the presentment.

On Monday, the family tried to persuade Paterno to read the presentment. He objected that he already knew what was in there, but they told him there was no room left for illusion. D’Elia would remember telling him, “You realize that the people out there think you knew about this? They think you had to know because you know about everything.”

“That’s their opinion!” Paterno shouted. “I’m not omniscient!”

“They think you are!” D’Elia roared back.

Later, D’Elia described watching Paterno read the presentment: “What did he know about perverted things like that? When he asked Scott, ‘What is sodomy, anyway?’ I thought my heart was going to break.”

I love access and I believe the best and most relevant part of the book will be about the access Posnanski had to Paterno and his family during those final days.

However, the book is about Paterno’s entire life and career. The brutal end is just a part of it. It will be interesting to see how people view all the “positives” that took place during his long tenure.

Much more to come on this story.






Why isn’t Simon & Schuster doing more to promote Paterno book on its site? Posnanski not listed for any appearances

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I find it interesting that Simon & Schuster is doing minimal promotion on its site for Joe Posnanski’s Paterno book.

All that really exists is a separate page about the book. You have to do a search to find it on the site.

There is no mention of Paterno on Simon & Schuster’s home page. Curious, but maybe that’s because the book hasn’t been released?

Then I saw a tab for “Coming Soon.” Certainly, Paterno would be mentioned there, considering the book is coming out Tuesday.

However, under the “Coming Soon” highlights for Aug. 21, there were three books being promoted under non-fiction. None of them were named Paterno.

Simon & Schuster might have its reasons for not doing more to promote Paterno. I don’t know for sure because I’m still waiting to receive a return phone call from the book’s publicist.

However, it certainly seems strange, doesn’t it? This is a highly-anticipated book in which the high-profile author received a huge advance (reportedly in the $750,000 range). You usually pound the drum pretty hard for these kind of projects.

If the Sandusky crimes never happened, and the book was indeed about the legendary life of a beloved college coach as was first intended, I would imagine Paterno would be splashed all over the Simon & Schuster site.

Indeed, you could tell the publisher initially had big hopes for Paterno with this opening line to the blurb.

Joe Posnanski’s biography of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno follows in the tradition of works by Richard Ben Cramer on Joe DiMaggio and David Maraniss on Vince Lombardi.

All the ingredients were there for a bestseller, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, Simon & Schuster now is looking at a controversial book that could get panned big time. The backlash against Paterno is severe.

My local bookstore owner doesn’t have high expectations for the book. “Nobody wants to read about Paterno,” the owner said.

By going low-key on the site, it certainly seems as if Simon & Schuster is hedging its bets on Paterno. Perhaps, the publisher doesn’t want to get too far out in front if the book turns out to be a bust.


Here’s another interesting twist. Simon & Schuster has an alphabetical listing for upcoming author appearances. For instance, Nick Faldo is going to be at a bookstore in New Jersey on Nov. 14.

One name is conspicuously absent from the list. You guess it: Joe Posnanski.

In July, a New York Times story quoted a representative of the Philadelphia library, where Posnanski was supposed to appear, as saying Simon & Schuster decided to hold off on a tour.


Actor Joe Mantegna is the reader for the audio version of the book. He’s an avid sports fan and a long-time Cubs sufferer. It would be interesting to get his view of the book.


I have said several times that I am a big admirer of Posnanski’s work. If anyone can pull this off, it would be him. For his sake, I hope he does.

I guess we’ll know more on Tuesday.