Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where have you gone, Joe Paterno?

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away?

-Paul Simon

I was only a little boy in 1967 when that song came out. The line quoted above always made me sad despite the fact that I was only faintly aware of its meaning at the time. Joe DiMaggio's glory days as an icon of baseball were long gone by the time I was born in 1958. When I first heard Simon and Garfunkel's recording of Mrs. Robinson, I didn't have a clue who the man was. All I knew for certain was that he had "left and gone away" and that this was a very sad, tragic thing indeed.  
We're always searching for heroes, aren't we? And it seems that, when we do find them, they invariably let us down. I'm tempted to say that we should never hope to find another Joe DiMaggio but that would be an exorcize in futility. As it turns out, Joe DiMaggio the man wasn't the Joe DiMaggio of our childhood fantasies. Decades of journalistic and historical inquiry informs us that Joltin' Joe was an egotist and a jerk of the highest order. He made people pay good money for the privilege of owning his autograph, and wherever he went, he insisted that he be introduced as "the greatest baseball player of all time" (He wasn't). And although at the time of her death fifty years ago he professed an abiding love for his ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, the biographers of both of them reveal that he wasn't particularly nice to her during the brief period they lived together as husband and wife.

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:

Tune in next week for another chapter 
in the thrilling adventures of 
And perhaps the comic book analogy is  not too far off the mark. Comic books are pure fantasy. Someone once told me that, as a kid, he believed Superman to be a living, breathing human being. When he matured a bit and learned that the Man of Steel was, in fact, the product of someone else's imagination (and a figment of his) he wasn't terribly shocked or upset by this knowledge. He learned to live with it and, last I checked, he is today quite stable - happy even.

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?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


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!


Mrs. Robinson
by Simon and Garfunkel

One of the great recordings of all time. I never tire of it. 


At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y'know Tom, a couple of things bother me about the Penn State 'thing.'

First, is the fact that all the coverage is in the "sports" sections. When did pedophilia become a sport? "Sandusky is leading in seasonal averages! So far he has 53 stalkings, 32 fondles, 14 dry-humps, and 6 penetrations." It's almost...dismissive to leave such a heavy topic in the sports section.

Secondly, I don't agree with what, I feel to be, the disproportionate and reactionary fall out from the scandal. I don't think the football team should have been penalized and titles and championships revoked. That is unless of course someone can prove how Penn State's collegiate record contributed to sodomy.

When the public sees crimes like this, we call out for blood and we're not very particular where it comes from...or from who. We just have the need to "punish" to somehow absolve ourselves of the ugliness of the incident.

Those athletes and those coaches won those games; games which were independent of the Sandusky events.

The dismantling of the Paterno Statue was just...needless. It solved nothing. As you say, Paterno may well have been tried for felonious conspiracy and/or be found to have been criminally negligent, but to strike down an iconic figure for one mistake in a pointless gesture seems excessive.

By the way, here in NY, for child care providers who do NOT report suspected abuse of children, it's a Class A misdemeanor. That's it!

Next, and I'm going to take a lot of heat on this, I blame the parents and to a lesser extent the victims.

I know!...I KNOW!! How could I say such a thing?!?!

When I first saw Jerry Sandusky, I thought: "He. Is. Just. Creepy." What parent would hand their child over to him?!? Who in their right mind?!?

Okay, Sandusky used his Foundation to target at-risk youth, whose parents may not have their own acts together. But still... C-r-e-e-p-y!

So why did they? Well my theory is that the parents ignored their instincts. To them, Sandusky equated to Penn State and that meant college. Essentially, these parents were willing to risk their child for a shot a Penn State.

This says a lot about us as a society; how we glorify sports and canonize athletes...and what we're willing to ignore.

To my knowledge, there was originally only one victim who was speaking out. And least 11 victims.

I won't cheapen or desensitize sexual assault. It can mess you up pretty good on a number of levels and the shame can be unbearable. Still, I can't help but to think that if justice was the only thing "on the table," they would've stayed quiet--still. Now with the likelihood of a class action lawsuit, everyone gets "chatty."

Even Sandusky's own step-son.

The tragedy of these events are many and who is to say if we know if all victims are accounted for. But as a society our reaction to this was just irrational.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous James said...

Lets try something different, do not respond to ignorant and useless posts. Do you have the willpower to do so?

At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on your post, I guess not.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

That's what I've been saying for the longest time, James.




At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Hopey McChange said...

Tom Degan,

Lets face reality, Obama has been a figment of our collective imagination also. His debate showed what a dud he really is.

At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Decades of journalistic and historical inquiry informs us that Joltin' Joe was an egotist and a jerk of the highest order. "

This is what another egotistic jerk actually said in 2007:

“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters.

I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors.

And I’m a better political director than my political director.”

The jerk actually flew to a Vegas campaign rally the day after a U.S. consulate is sacked and the ambassador murdered.

The jerk's Middle East policy is a failure, and he can take his Nobel Peace Prize and shove it right up his ass!

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Caroline Kennedy said...

"I can't stand to hear his (Obama's) voice anymore. He's a liar and worse."

At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Nancy Reagan's Astrologer said...

The stars say it's not looking good for this Romney/Ryan ticket. Romney's bad enough, but adding this Ryan guy, oh boy. Also, while I'm here, this Ronnie they're talking about these days is sure not the Ronnie that I knew.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great question Tom. But you are not going to like the answer.

Liberalism is what has happened to the former great American Joes with it's concept of no absolutes, that truth depends on a persons view point, and that relativism is the only way to judge a persons actions.
Examples start with blaming society for the criminals crime instead of the person, to the full life belief system that govt was created to level the playing field.
Liberalism does not encourage individual personal responsibility but instead teaches that govt is there to insure you get a share of the efforts of some one else. Cause, after all:
"You didn't make that business by yourself"!

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Kevin Swanwick said...

Nice job Tom. Your uncle was a fine gentleman.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Catharine said...

I have been sickened by the reaction to Sandusky's arrest and trial since this started. I know that the days of collegiate sports' function as a character-building lesson in teamwork and physical fitness are long past {colleges are merely farm clubs for the NFL now}, but the depth of cynicism and selfishness that embued the Sandusky coveup was disgusting beyond words. Penn State should be counting its lucky stars that it ONLY got stripped of its titles. In any other institution where such top-down corruption was proven, the entire validity of its existence might well have questioned.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

Thank you Catherine for a little sanity.

At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe left before he had to see this:

“If obama dont get re-elected & romney wins .. on life every white persons getting pistol whipped and im startin a riot.”

“If Obama don’t win lets start a riot so Romney know what he’s getting himself into.”

“You know you ain’t shit if you gotta “MAKE” Mafukas vote for ROMNEY ! …. Mannnn OBAMA better get back in office . Or BLACK FOLKS will riot.”

“If Romney wins im goin on a rampage.”

“If Mitt Romney wins the election I think its our duties as Black folks to riot and fuck shit up.”

“If every action IS met with an equal and opposite reaction ..what should workers do to employers if Romney’s elected? #Riot in the streets!!”

“If Romney becomes president let’s all start a riot.”)

“I Heard Mitt Romney , Tryna Take Away Food Stamps , If He Do .”IMA START A RIOT , IMA START A RIOT.” (

“If romney wins, imma start a mf’n riot! Rns.”

Although most of the individuals posting the messages don’t even attempt to justify why they plan to riot, others have pointed to fears about a Romney administration withdrawing or limiting government handouts.

In addition to rhetoric about starting riots if Obama loses, Twitter users have also targeted Mitt Romney with death threats.

“I swear if Mitt Romney becomes president, I’m gonna be the one to assassinate his a*s (sic),” wrote one

“If Mitt Romney win imma assassinate him (sic),” added another Obama supporter.

This is the address to the source of these quotes:

Is this true or just a trumped up conservative trick to get more of the white vote out in response to the fear of an Obama victory? Or is this an example of Obama's people trying to scare voters into voting for the President?

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Leslie Parsley said...


This litigious humour is bad enough: but there is one character still worse — that of a person who goes into company, not to contradict, but to talk at you. This is the greatest nuisance in civilised society. Such a person does not come armed to defend himself at all points, but to unsettle, if he can, and throw a slur on all your favourite opinions. If he has a notion that anyone in the room is fond of poetry, he immediately volunteers a contemptuous tirade against the idle jingle of verse. If he suspects you have a delight in pictures, he endeavours, not by fair argument, but by a side-wind, to put you out of conceit with so frivolous an art. If you have a taste for music, he does not think much good is to be done by this tickling of the ears. If you speak in praise of a comedy, he does not see the use of wit: if you say you have been to a tragedy, he shakes his head at this mockery of human misery, and thinks it ought to be prohibited. He tries to find out beforehand whatever it is that you take a particular pride or pleasure in, that he may annoy your self-love in the tenderest point (as if he were probing a wound) and make you dissatisfied with yourself and your pursuits for several days afterwards. A person might as well make a practice of throwing out scandalous aspersions against your dearest friends or nearest relations, by way of ingratiating himself into your favour. Such ill-timed impertinence is ‘villainous, and shows a pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.’
– William Hazlitt, “On the Conversation of Authors,” 1820

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee Leslie, "He tries to find out beforehand whatever it is that you take a particular pride or pleasure in, that he may annoy your self-love in the tenderest point (as if he were probing a wound) and make you dissatisfied with yourself and your pursuits for several days afterwards." Sounds like your talking about bitter clingers.

At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there is something to be thankful for these past 4 horrid years, is that perhaps along with this presidency, Liberalism and Progressivism will be lost to the recesses of history and will never be a plague upon American soil again.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Jack Higgins said...

both my children attend PSU. Its amazing how so many experts have an
opinion and have condemned Joe Pa now that he can't defend himself.
Why weren't the board of trustee's charged? they should have know too.
the board,the NCAA and the school admin all had a hand in this but we'll blame the guy who cant defend himself.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Agreed, Jack. There were too many people in this rancid affair who walked away smelling like roses.


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