Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Joe Posnanski can't escape conflict with Joe Paterno book

Writer Joe Posnanski faces tough choices on Paterno biography.

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 7:35 AM

Joe Posnanski is a throw back in a lot of ways.
  • Joe Blog
  • Joe Posnanski is a throwback in a lot of ways.
As writers, we often agree to trade a degree of access for a degree of discretion. Some journalists will tell you that nothing is "off the record." While they're not wrong, they also probably aren't working the same source twice.

And then you have Joe Posnanski, the former Kansas City Star columnist who is leaving Sports Illustrated to write for an as-yet undefined Web venture underwritten by Major League Baseball. The subject of an extensive feature story in The New York Times over the weekend - he also just so happens to be working on a book about the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. And he just so happened to be in Pennsylvania when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. And now, Joe Posnanski must face a story that is incapable of being shaped. He must face a story that simply has to be told.

One of my favorite Posnanski stories is one he tells often and with good reason. It's about his coverage of Rulon Gardner, an unheralded American wrestler who brought home gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In his version, Posnanski lucks into the story, simply by looking where the cameras weren't pointed.

The reality is that he found that story because he does look in places missed by other sports writers. Whether covering winners or losers, Posnanski's tone is ultimately hopeful. It's why people gravitate toward him. He brings you in with descriptions of better times and possibilities. He wants people to succeed, in spite or because of who they are, and as a result he can't help but convey that on the page.

For arguably the first time in his career, Posnanski can't turn from conflict in search of triumph. He stands in the middle of the eye of the largest media storm of the past year. However, it's a storm he didn't chase. He's never chased the storms, let alone been in one. It is his history of discretion that bought him the access to Paterno. When his book comes out this June - Simon & Schuster has pushed up the publishing date in an attempt to capitalize on the news - we'll find out whether access and discretion still go hand in hand in Happy Valley.

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