Naked to Mine Enemies

I’ve been thinking of Cardinal Wolsey these days in relation to the firing of Joe Paterno as Penn State’s football coach. People continue to ask why he was fired and the board of trustees has yet to answer that question. Of course, the question becomes more prominent because as the timeline in the Sandusky sex abuse scandal is laid out, Paterno did the right thing and should be honored, not fired. Or so it seems until we get more information.

The Joe Paterno I know was no Cardinal Wolsey, who apparently while serving Henry VIII was quite the political animal and served Henry rather than the church only to have Henry turn on him late in his life. Wolsey died while enroute to London where he probably would have been executed.

I read a biography of Wolsey back in the 1960s and was struck by the title: Naked to Mine Enemies. I’m not sure Wolsey ever used the line but I do know that Shakespeare did in his play Henry VIII.

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.

As I pondered the firing of Joe Paterno and the unstated reason(s) behind it, the phrase came back to me. I finally realized that there is no unstated reason for the firing, that Paterno had over the years accumulated enough enemies that in a moment of vulnerability his enemies prevailed over his supporters. Look at all of the negative stories about Joe’s past that have been published since he was fired. Few would dare to write such stories while he was the coach.

Why was Joe fired? He stayed too long. While most people, including those in Old Main and on the board of trustees, retire at 65, Paterno kept on coaching and had enough support to get away with it. Even when he was asked to step down, he had enough power to thumb his nose at the president of Penn State and to continue coaching. Even at the conclusion of the last season, his legacy intact as the winningest Division I coach in college football, he refused to step down. He wanted one more season and seemed to suggest that there would be more after that.

Leaving aside the current sex abuse scandal, I always thought that Joe had the right values for a football coach. Certainly, he was not perfect, but his stated values were worth emulating. I long said that Joe had a right to retire on his own terms—but at the same time he should have retired a while back.

By insisting on continuing to coach, Paterno left himself naked to his enemies. In the end his vulnerability was greater than his legacy. Like it or not, he was fired.


Facts and Discussion Boards

There’s a great line that we often hear in newsrooms. It’s meant as a joke, but some non-newsies might wonder.

The line goes: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The implication is that a reporter will ignore the facts in order to create a more interesting story, a story that will attract more readers than one based on facts.

Having become addicted to Facebook and newspaper discussion boards, I’m beginning to think the line is universal rather than limited to newsrooms. As I follow, in particular, the discussion at the sex abuse scandal connected in some way to Penn State, I marvel at the number of posts that are factually wrong. I marvel more when the originator is corrected and stands by his original posts.

The standard of proof is very low, unlike in any newsroom I ever worked in. Newsrooms, especially when working on controversial stories, have a two-source rule. You need at least two independent sources saying the same thing before you’ll consider putting the information in a story. And the sources can’t just be anybody.

There was a post the other day claiming that a certain downtown State College development project included a penthouse suite for former Penn State president Graham Spanier. I asked for a source. The originator said one of the developers told him that. Nothing on paper. Just hearsay.

A couple of weeks later Penn State, which had committed to two floors of office space (not a penthouse), backed out of the project and the Spaniers coincidentally purchased their own condo in a neighboring township.

That did not stop the posts about the penthouse.

Of course, the “facts” about Joe Paterno and what he did when informed of a former assistant’s behavior are as fluid as the Mississippi River. The ones that suit a person’s disposition toward Penn State or Paterno are the ones that get posted, followed by “corrections” from others.

I have enough examples to fill a book.

Now there’s an idea. A book.

When I see misinformation repeated on a discussion board, I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain (but which I can’t verify): Rumor is halfway around the world before truth gets out of the starting gate.

And that was before the Internet!


The Pill Girl

Nothing like open heart surgery to increase your daily intake of pills. Before I had surgery (on Halloween, no less), I was taking six pills a day, of which two were prescription drugs and the rest over the counter.

Now I take at least 15 pills a day, spread over four time slots—breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. And I’m not counting the pain pill I take occasionally or the two Tylenol I took the other day to clear up a massive headache, which I now think was a cold. (It’s gone and I’m feeling much better.)

My real point in writing this is not to whine. I am grateful to be alive.
I am more grateful to my wife, Paulette, who continues to be my No. 1 nurse, although she’s been replaced (by me) as my chauffeur.

It is Paulette who oversees the pills, making sure that my pillboxes are filled correctly and reminding me to take the pills. She usually puts the appropriate pillbox next to my plate when I sit down to eat.

Frankly, I’m not sure which pill does what, but Paulette knows. In fact, when any one of my doctors asked me about pills, I point to Paulette and she answers the question. She knows the dosage and frequency much better than I.

We’ve started to give the pills names. For example, there are the P pills. I take a pill twice a day to make me pee a lot to get rid of excess fluid. When you pee, you lose potassium and so along with the pee pill, I take a potassium pill. We call those two the P bills.

We celebrated the other day when my cardiologist reduced the frequency of one of my pills. At some point, I should be back to my normal six and my pill girl can retire.