Joe Lied – And Why It Should Matter To You

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The legacy of Joe Paterno was of a football program that molded boys into men, and did so with success for many years. Paterno was the archetype of the term “college football coach”, and a model of the Italian American community.

In that community of sports figures, his name could have easily been mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi, DiMaggio, and Marciano. Legendary in his work.

How sickening it was to learn, this past week, that his legacy will have nothing to do with football – but will have everything to do with his role as a protector of a sexual predator. A predator that preyed on children, ruining their lives.

It was easy to think previously that Paterno knew nothing, or knew little, about the crimes of Jerry Sandusky. That they were beyond his comprehension. But he did know. He knew for years. Lied about it. Did his part to try to cover it up.

He turned his back on the innocent. All in the name of his football program and its “reputation”. He could have stopped the actions of a monster, but he turned his back instead.

Could this have happened under the watch of Lombardi? In the locker room of DiMaggio? In the gym of Marciano?

Before the information from the Penn State investigation came out last week, I would have said “no”. As in hell, no. But no can turn into “who knows?”. Now, you can never be sure. About anything. This is part of what Paterno’s betrayal has done.

The worship of men, no matter the status, is a losing proposition. Can’t do it. It gives power and prestige to those that should never have it. Because they are human. They are flawed. Some of them are evil.

How many parents do you think felt completely confident sending their boys into the Penn State football program? Answer: All of them. How could they have known that they were bringing their children to rapists, molesters, liars?

If you are a parent, you are always on the offensive to begin with. When your kid drives a car. When they get into a car driven by someone else. When they go out with a friend.

Parents, it’s time to get your paranoia on. If you haven’t already. Every time your kids meet a new friend, meet a friend’s family, or go out among strangers, question it. Question everything. Make them give you every bit of information their little brains have.

Go on the offensive.

You’re in a new world now. Where coaches protect criminals, and themselves, in the name of fame, power and money. God forbid if your child is the one in the crossfire.

I admired Joe Paterno. Thought he was one of the good guys, a role model. I was fooled. I won’t get fooled again. The tradition that is the worship of men can no longer continue. Mickey Mantle is a memory, Willie Mays has faded, and “Where have you gone?” is a question that is no longer asked of Joe DiMaggio.

We know where they have gone. What they’ve left behind is a world where human tragedies play out off the field in the business of sports.

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The Fall Of An Italian American Icon: A Story Without Heroes

The death of former heavyweight champion “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier was enough bad news in the world of current events last week, another symbol of youth that fades away from all of us. It just doesn’t seem that long ago that I was a kid watching Frazier battle through his epic trilogy with Muhammad Ali, the epitome of a big heart and soul that went through life with his head down, at full speed.

He died of liver cancer last week, at the fairly young age of 67. He was tough, but eventually the fight ends for all of us.

He was a sporting figure worthy of your admiration, his resilience and tenacity being his greatest qualities. As an undefeated fighter, he took his championship into the ring against George Foreman, and was promptly knocked to the canvas six times en route to his first defeat in the brief bout.

But, Frazier kept getting up after each knockdown. He didn’t give up, and was only stopped by referee Arthur Mercante calling a halt to the bout.

Unfortunately, the Frazier story was overshadowed by the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. Legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno was fired from his position as head coach, as he seemed to not do enough to help bring to justice one of his assistants, a dirtball named Jerry Sandusky, who may have abused dozens of young boys.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Paterno’s story is disconcerting because he built a program over 40 years of doing good and helping boys become men not just through football, but also solid principles of every day life.

That doesn’t matter now. Paterno could have used his significant power and influence to alert local police to a sexual deviant on his campus. He chose instead to relay it to the Athletic Director, who dismissively swept it under the rug. With no follow up on his part, Paterno looks like a willing accomplice.

That may not be fair, but it’s how it is in the court of public opinion. That’s life.

This is a story without heroes. It is an American tragedy, committed on her grounds of higher learning. No one tried to help the kids. From the University President, to the AD, assistant coaches, executive directors, all the way to the janitors that may have seen some of these despicable crimes. No one helped the children.

All they cared about was their positions and their paychecks. No one saved the kids.

The question that always bugs me is, how do they get away with it so many times? Like the scandal that plagued the Catholic Church before this, how are these perpetrators able to assault these children with such frequency?

I ask: Isn’t there one vigilante parent out there? Out of all the parents of these kids, isn’t there one defender of our youth? Shouldn’t the long arm of the law be the last thing these criminals have to worry about? Isn’t there one parent who would draw a six iron from his golf bag with the purpose of pulling a “Lee Trevino” on this guy? So he couldn’t hurt any more kids?

Joe Paterno is no longer one of the greatest college football coaches to ever walk a sideline. He has become a symbol.

Joe Paterno is an Italian American icon whose fall from grace will symbolize our country’s failure to always concern itself with the well being of our children. It’s sad that a man who probably did the right things most of his life, couldn’t pull the trigger to do the right thing one more time. To put a sexual predator behind bars. To help protect our kids.

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Why You Shouldn’t Give a Damn About Athletes and Celebrities

A favorite movie of mine is A Bronx Tale. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the character played by Italian American actor Chazz Palminteri, a gangster named Sonny, has a unique way of comforting a young charge after a Yankees World Series defeat.

The young boy, named Calogero, was upset because Mickey Mantle cried after the heart breaking loss. Sonny, in a rather direct manner, asked why he felt this way – because in a big picture world, Mickey Mantle was a megastar who didn’t give a shit about him, his family, or the struggles they faced every day.

As the boy grew into a man, he never felt the same way about the Yankees again.

The scene has merit – a (perceived) truth was revealed to a boy that couldn’t have comprehended it beforehand. And if Mantle was aloof towards his fans in the ’60s at all, well – he’s got nothing on the modern athlete.

While American families struggled to recover from an economic recession, NBA owners locked out their rank and file players because, much like the NFL before them, they can’t figure out how to divide their billions.

Potential billionaire LeBron James

And while negotiations take place, and the matter eventually gets resolved, please remember that these players, like Mantle decades ago, won’t give a damn about you or your struggles either.

Yes, there are players that care. Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints still helps recovering Katrina victims from his home base. Fellow football player Warrick Dunn created a foundation that has purchased many homes for struggling single families. It’s my belief that guys of this caliber are few and far between.

Maybe that’s just perception. We hear so many more stories about players involved in domestic violence, drunken driving, and in the case of Plaxico Burress, literally shooting themselves in the foot. Ironic. We need better from those in the spotlight.

But the athlete, or any celebrity for that matter, is a fallible human being, who’s really not required to care about anything but themselves if that’s their choice.

I am a big Yankee fan. My grandparents loved the Yankees, especially legendary shortstop Phil Rizzuto. I harbor no illusions, though. As much of a fan as I continue to be, I realize the Yankees were, in the past,  the cream of the crop of the spoiled rotten gazillionaire athlete. And that may never change.

But I’ve changed my attitude. And maybe you should too. The next time you arrange your day to spend your hours watching your team’s game and cheer for your favorite player – in lieu of maybe doing something with your family – keep a thought in the back of your mind.

Just like in the movie, Mickey didn’t care.

ARod doesn’t care, and neither does LeBron.

The striking NBA players don’t care about you, just about the bucket loads of cash they will fight tooth and nail over. So return the favor – and don’t care about them so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Monday Night Football is on. I’m anxious to see which millionaire plays the hardest tonight….

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent” – Lorenzo Anello (Robert DeNiro) in “A Bronx Tale”

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A Father and Son, A Perfect Swing

As father – son baseball moments go, we have one that may stand the test of time, ranking right up there with Kevin Costner as the fictional Ray Kinsella, playing catch with his ghostly father with a backdrop of an Iowa cornfield  in the final scene of Field of Dreams.

For me, a Dad who has played ball with both of my kids, son and daughter, it was one of those “goose pimple” events.  Yankee star second baseman Robinson Cano, winning the All Star Home Run Derby, with his father and mentor Jose as his pitcher.

It was compelling television. Jose was stoic and unsmiling as he threw the batting practice tosses to his son, and didn’t even crack a smile until he knew that Cano would grab the title of “home run king” for the night.

The outcome never seemed to be in doubt. In the final round, Cano hit a home run with most of the pitches his Dad threw to him. In retrospect, it looked like they had been doing it forever. And they probably have.

Once victory was secure, the only thing left was a bear hug between a father and his boy.

In a night full of baseballs launched out of the park, majestic moonshots landing in second and third decks, Robinson had the most majestic of all, a couple of balls measured beyond 470 feet.

In an interview after the competition, the younger Cano did not reference his upper body strength, sense of balance, or his perfectly Ruthian swing as the factors for his stratospheric display. Instead, he gave credit where he thought it was due.

It was my dad.”

Cano said he wished the trophy could be cut in half — half for him, half for his dad.

“These are the things you share with your family, when you retire you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was good in the day’,” Cano said. “This is something I’m always going to have in my mind and my heart.”

A committed father rarely understands the importance of his role. The statistics bear out that having a father at home shuts down that greater risk of having major challenges in life while growing up.

On the flip side, I think having a Dad like Jose Cano can not only keep a kid out of trouble,  but also accelerate any success that child might experience. And once you get momentum…

Jose was a professional athlete himself, who took the time to teach his son the finer points of the game, and obviously, the skills required to live a life of success within the sport he loves.

An old school guy, who puts family first and his needs and wants on the back burner if necessary.

Thanks to Jose and Robinson for showing us real must see TV for families. In a time where most television is reality garbage, this baseball event was one for the ages.