Where have you gone, Joe Paterno?
All of this trivial nonsense went racing through my mind this morning when I read about the the latest deflation of an American super-icon. This time the fallen idol's name is Lance Armstrong...."Lance Armstrong"....It sounds like the name of a comic book hero, as in:
So what if Lance Armstrong is a cheat? So what if he forced his teammates to "dope"? So what if his entire career is a lie and a sick joke? That's okay. Lance Armstrong was a figment of our collective imagination - as were Superman and Joe DiMaggio. As was a guy named OJ Simpson. Remember OJ? I wonder what ever happened to him. Fallen idols. Shattered dreams.
To be perfectly blunt with you, I don't give a rat's ass about sports. I never have. My opinion is that life is precious - and people (men in particular) waste those precious lives thinking about and obsessing over the topic of sports. Do you want to know what my favorite sport is? Figure Skating. I'm not kidding. I could never understand why so many of my peers found this to be somewhat "unmanly" on my part. What's the big deal? Watching a bunch of guys in tight-fitting uniforms hopping around an astro-turf field was never my ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But those figure skaters? THEY WERE GORGEOUS! That's just a peculiar personality quirk of mine. I've got loads of 'em. Pay it no mind.
I can't tell you who won the 1932 World Series beacuse, eighty years later, it doesn't really matter who won it. I can tell you who won the 1932 campaign for the presidency though. Eighty years later that does matter. Very much so.
I'm not completely indifferent to sports. There is my passion for the New York Yankees. Whenever the Bronx Bombers make it to the World Series, I become very excited. I always get down on my knees and pray - THAT THEY LOSE. A number of years ago, you may recall, they tore down the House That Babe Ruth Built, a historical landmark, in order to build a new stadium that actually has about forty-five hundred fewer seats. One thing it does have, though, are a lot more private sky-boxes for them to cater to their plutocratic clientele. To hell with the Yankees. A few years ago when they got beaten senseless by Boston in the world series, I was the happiest man in New York.
I was born on the tenth anniversary of Babe Ruth's death.
And I'm not insensitive to the feelings of betrayal that sports fans feel these days. There will be asterisks next to the names of so many of their heroes (with a "doper" footnote) for all time and eternity. It's really not too difficult to understand the disillusion that so many of them experienced when they came face-to-face with the undeniable truth that their Action Figure icons were nothing more than a pack of steroid-injecting cheats and egomaniacs.
In fact there is some degree of empathy within me. I, too, was deeply let down by the behavior of a sports legend I had always looked up to for no other reason than an indirect, familial connection. I was reminded of this the other day when former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was handed a virtual life sentence in prison for the sexual abuse he committed against the children he took under his wing.
Joe Paterno was the first cousin of my late uncle, Joseph Gargiulo. He married my father's eldest sibling, Audrey Degan, in April of 1942. The physical resemblance between the two men was always striking. They might have been fraternal twins. Because of this connection, I always felt a great amount of pride and admiration for the guy. That his once-sterling reputation could have fallen this low is almost inconceivable to me. It's like a horrible nightmare from which one awakens, grateful at the realization that it was just a dream. Only this is no dream. In fact it's too hideous and real to even contemplate.
I was hoping that, somehow, he would be exonerated. That's never gonna happen - not in this lifetime or any other for that matter. The release in July of Louis Freeh's seven-month-long investigation into this sordid affair put an end to any such hope. The kindest thing that can be said of Joe Paterno at this stage is that he was, at best, criminally negligent. A number of people - with a knowledge of the law far more expansive than mine - have said that had he not died on January 22, he would today be under indictment for felonious conspiracy. A few days after the Freeh report was made public, the statue of "Joe Pa" that had for years graced the campus of Penn State was torn down. That was probably a wise decision.
Think about this: There is a website called "Find A Grave" which shows the final resting places of persons of note. Each deceased celebrity has his or her own page with a comments section where one can write their thoughts and tributes. Joe Paterno's comments page has been permanently turned off because too many people were posting rude and obscene things on it. Usually that only happens with presidential assassins and mass murderers.
In a matter of a few months a sixty year, unblemished career and reputation have been reduced to ashes on the alter on public opinion. His reputation as "the winningest coach in football" has been erased from official memory. What a waste; what a pity, and how unspeakably sad. Where have you gone, Joe Paterno?
Uncle Joe Gargiulo passed away on October 6, 1990. He would have turned one-hundred on March 12, 2012. I'm certainly glad he didn't live to see his favorite cousin's disgrace.
Don't be heartbroken when your heroes let you down. They always will, you know. They always will. They're just too damned human.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Congratulations to my pal Michael Sager for a sterling saxophone performance at Carnegie Hall this past Saturday night. He is a member of the Goshen Youth Jazz Band and they knocked 'em dead! I lived in that neighborhood for thirteen years and I'm ashamed to tell you that, prior to Saturday evening, I had never been to Carnegie Hall before. Good going, Michael. It's an honor to be even a mere footnote in your biography!
by Simon and Garfunkel
One of the great recordings of all time. I never tire of it.