TOUCHY SUBJECT: Since it was announced last March, Joe Posnanski’s biography of disgraced Penn State coach Joe Paterno has become the book no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole. Its original celebratory premise — it was pitched as a look at “America’s winningest college football coach” — unraveled as Paterno’s complicity in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal came to light. Paterno as a subject became so controversial that even Sports Illustrated, Posnanski’s former employer, rejected an offer from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, to run an excerpt, according to Deadspin.
Step in GQ, which is running a 4,000-word excerpt in the September issue with the headline, “The Secrets and Lies of Joe Paterno.” It is online today. The book, “Paterno,” comes out Tuesday.
Devin Gordon, articles editor at the magazine, said GQ was interested in Paterno’s last days as coach for their dramatic quality. “As a journalist, Paterno at this moment is a fascinating character to watch and observe,” Gordon said. “Posnanski was well positioned to tell that story.”
Gordon said he approached Simon & Schuster in May, about a month before S.I. reportedly rejected the book, and two months before the independent report into the Sandusky scandal that detailed Paterno’s actions was released.
The publisher did not put any restrictions on what GQ could excerpt, Gordon said.
There were concerns that the book might be too hagiographic and light on the freshest details of the case. Gordon said the galley he read “was probably more sympathetic to Paterno than what was [being reported] in the media.” But the book was being tweaked until the last minute, and he does not know to what degree it has been updated.
The excerpt he chose “just reports what was going on,” Gordon said. “In terms of making a moral judgment, that’s for the reader to do.”
The magazine closed on the September issue in late July and inserted footnotes into the excerpt to contextualize current events that weren’t addressed.
The excerpt could be read as the magazine’s promotional endorsement of a book many already see as too friendly to its subject. Gordon rejects that. “I do not see it as an endorsement of the book, but I also don’t see it as a rejection of the book,” he said. “The book is the book, and the magazine excerpt is the magazine excerpt.”