Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Memorial Day (The words on the Atlantic side of the World War II Memorial in Washington DC—which is a beautifiul tribute to the soldiers of that war).
(Updated note---May 25th--After this was posted I got good news in an e-mail from Lt. Mark Natale--they will be headed out of Iraq early and back to Germany--in about 1 month and a half. Godspeed)

This is Memorial Day Weekend and that should bring to us at least a moment or two of reflection as we gather with family and friends. Here in State College we sit just three miles from the town of Boalsburg where the Memorial Day tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began.

Over the years since that tradition began in Boalsburg, we have fought many wars—wars all over the globe—to protect our freedoms and our interests. Both of my Grandfathers served in the military—Angelo Lafayette Paterno served in World War I in Europe and August Louis Pohland served in World War II—also in Europe.

As Memorial Day comes around this year, we must be mindful that courageous men and women are still risking their lives in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While I have never served, I have tremendous respect for those serving our country. Over the years, I have received e-mails from soldiers serving on the front lines. We hear from soldiers who are Penn State fans, who try and keep up with our games so they can have just a little taste of home.

One came from 1st Lieutenant Mark Natale—from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania--serving in Iraq. His commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lestochi is a Penn State fan as well. They are with the 54th Engineering Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany and were stationed in Baghdad.

Last fall they began an operation called Task Force Nittany and wanted us to know that when they could, they’d be watching our games in Iraq. Just before the season opener, I even managed to call Lt. Natale from the field in Beaver Stadium just before pre-game warm-ups. He said hearing the crowd in the background as we talked made him feel like he was almost there.

(Sign for Task Force Nittany—one of which hung on the door of the Quarterback/Wide Receiver meeting room this fall).

(The HQ for Task Force Nittany in Baghdad—notice the PSU Football poster lower left side and stand-up Joe by the Flag).

(Love the paint job on the trucks for Task Force Nittany).

Last summer, I also received an e-mail from the wife of one of my high school football teammates—Tony Reede--a Marine also stationed in Iraq.

These are examples of the correspondence we get—bringing home the fact that there are individuals—individuals of great courage and great strength around the world protecting our country.

In the book War and Peace, Tolstoy discusses the strength of the men in the field and the importance of that strength.

“Sometimes when there is no coward in the front to yell “We are Cut off!” and start to run, but a brave, spirited lad who leads the way with shouts of “Hurrah!”—a division of 5,000 is as good as 30,000.”

As we observe Memorial Day, let us all be sure to think about those who have sacrificed so much for our nation—and say a prayer for those still on the front lines. Take a moment and watch the video link below from the New York Times—it will put faces to the stories we read about the wars we are still fighting.
The video runs just over 5 minutes, but it will stay with you long after you're done watching.

You see first hand the courage these troops show in the face of the gravest of dangers every day. These are exactly the type of brave, spirited people that Tolstoy wrote about.

No matter how you feel about the wars, we can all agree that the men and women in the field—people of courage—are all deserving of our thoughts, prayers and support. Think about that on Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spike Lee, Student-Athletes and Education

Tonight ESPN will air a documentary about Kobe Bryant by Spike Lee. With Spike Lee in the news, and Penn State's Graduation weekend here, I wanted to share a story.

Spike Lee is a filmmaker who has been both praised and criticized for his views on a range of topics. His 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” was responsible for a whole wave of discussion on the subject of urban race relations in this country. For everyone (like myself) who loved the movie, there was someone who would argue that it promoted violence.
But that has been at the heart of his greatest moments--an ability to spur discussion and dialogue.

Spike Lee has created a vast and widely diverse range of projects---from the aforementioned “Do The Right Thing” to “Jungle Fever” to “Summer of Sam” to “25th Hour” to his famous Mars Blackmon Nike ads with Michael Jordan. In my mind two of his most powerful films were “Malcolm X” and the documentary “When The Levee Breaks”—about Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

Back in 2005 I was fortunate enough to have a chance to talk with Spike Lee. For about a half an hour prior to a speech he made at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium we talked on a range of subjects. I took quarterback Michael Robinson and defensive end Matt Rice with me to meet someone they both idolized.

In the discussion about student-athletes, Spike Lee made a comment about the student-athletes being used, and deserving to be paid to play. He referred to the NCAA’s system of amateurism in big-time football and basketball as a glorified plantation system.

In the next few minutes I gained respect for Spike Lee—because he engaged in a give and take discussion with me on the subject. His views were not set in stone. He was as good a listener as he was in passing on wisdom he had gained in his groudbreaking career.

What we agreed upon was this: The student-athletes getting “used” were the ones who did not get their education. Student-athletes should demand that universities respect and honor their right to get the education they want. Unfortunately, far too many are getting used by the system.

I pointed out that Penn State's African-American Football Players routinely graduate at a rate of about 80%--roughly the same graduation rate of all Penn State students and well above the national average for African-American Football Student-Athletes (around 50%).

We ask a lot of our players, but the NCAA has rules we adhere to: In-season we are only allowed to use 20 hours a week for football, in the off-season that numbers drops to 8 hours a week.

I asked Spike Lee that if I offered him a chance to work 20 hours a week for 18 weeks and 8 hours a week the rest of the year—and that would enable him to graduate from college debt-free—would he take it?

Like most people, he answered yes.

In his speech that night in Eisenhower Auditorium he did talk about college athletics. When he was critical of the system he paused and mentioned Penn State’s stellar graduation rate and commitment to academics--was the exception.

With graduation weekend here at Penn State, it is a good time to remember what sets Penn State apart from so many other schools—that commitment to academic and athletic excellence that is second to none nationally.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Q & A From my Twitter Site

Because I am not one who wants to always be limited to 140 characters for my answers I have taken the Qusetions I got at my twitter site and brought them here for the Q& A. I also don't want to blow up everyone's Twitter sites when I post ten-fiteen answers.

Here we go:

Devon2012@JayPaterno can you guys meet with guys you've offered scholarships too outside the camp?

We are not allowed to meet with them on the day of the Nike camp. We can meet with them either the day prior to or the day after the camp.

feetforlove@JayPaterno but athletes can take an unofficial visit while they're in town, correct?

They can take an official visit—just not the calendar day of the actual camp.

ksubramz@JayPaterno - What's your favorite play in offense ?

My favorite play on offense is when we take a knee to end the game. I love that play and I love when we run it because it means we’ve won and that the hay is in the barn. I am also a big fan of play-action passes.

TDWood@JayPaterno Joepa recently said he wants the B11 to add another team. If the decision was up to you, what school would you choose to join?

I’m not sure I’d add one. With a 12-game season already the season is long enough. If we get a college football playoff, then I could see the merit of going to a 12th team and playing a Big Ten Title game. All that being said—I’d be shocked if the Big Ten ever added another team.

oldveteran@JayPaterno Tell your dad,hes got a great idea for Big Ten playoff. Get Notre Dame to join. They would gladly accept now.

I’m not sure that Notre Dame would jump in—they’ve had a couple of chances and they feel as though it is not in their best interest.

One idea I’d love to see happen is for us to play Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium—at least we’d sell it out—but what a cool venue that would be for a football game. I’d suggest Fenway Park too-but at 38,000 seats it’s just not big enough.

kk5ye@JayPaterno What times of the year do you a break from football and what do you like to do when you have the time?

We have a couple of weeks in the summer when it slows down some, and we really take a break when the school is on Spring Break. Spring Break is the one time where you really aren’t worried about the season approaching like you are in the summer. In my time away from football, I write (working on a book project). I also read a lot to try and learn things like history, or to read great fiction—so I can see other people’s writing styles. I do not golf—it takes way too much time and there is really no thrill in it. I like to bike and in the winter I ski. The picture above is me above the clouds at Whistler in British Columbia. (One note I do wear a helmet now when I ski—it is white with a blue stripe down the middle).

feetforlove@JayPaterno other than recruiting and doing the Nike Camp, what else do the coaches do this time of the year?

Even though we just finished spring, I am still looking at tape of our opponents whenever I get the chance. I am constantly tinkering with new ideas and/or plays and/or formations to best utilize our talent based on what we’ll see this fall. I also look at as much NFL tape as I can and we steal some ideas—and then improve them to best fit what we do.

Bad5052@JayPaterno I know defense is scrap's-- R we going to play more man cov. (esp. AJ?). Cant stand the bendbutdontbreak secondary scheme

I am not exactly sure what the entire defensive coverage scheme will be this fall. Much like we do on offense, the defensive staff tries different things out in spring and in the off-season. There is certainly talent in the secondary, but the question is how quickly the cohesion begins to develop among the guys playing there. It is much like the O-lIne in that regard.

ordidge2@JayPaterno does psu do tours of beaver stadium and re football facilities? Just if I manage to get a trip over this season.

If you get here all the way from England just hit me up on Twitter and we’ll see if we can get you into the stadium.

PamH53@JayPaterno Do you have any relatives visiting Sanibel FL right now? Saw someone last night that looked just like your father.

I don’t have any relatives down in Sanibel—but I have seen some pretty good Joe look-alikes over the years. As Joe has said “Being told you look like me would be a dubious honor.”

ebradlee10@jaypaterno Are you disappointed about no more late season nite games?

Love the Sham-Wow profile photo—props on that. What’s next will someone have a profile picture sporting the Snuggie (the blanket with sleeves). I love night games, Joe P loves night games—we’ve just got to show the world that the greatness of our fans—and the volume of our fans doesn’t show up only at night—our excellence knows no time slot. So this fall be sure to bring your 8 p.m. game to the 3:30 time slot.

AbsolutePigskin@JayPaterno being the favorite to win the Big Ten this year, what team do you think poses the biggest obstacle in the way of PSU this year?

I think Ohio State and Iowa are certainly other teams I’ve seen people picking to win the Big Ten—so I am not sure if we’d be the favorite. The one thing about this conference is that there are no teams that can’t compete on any given week, We certainly have some things we have to get settled in the secondary and on the o-line as well as DE and in the WR corps—before I would say that we’d be anyone’s favorite. The talent is there but we’ll have to see how it develops.

kjn109@JayPaterno Jay, who are some of the kids on the team who don't get headlines but are remarkable in 1 way or another (off-field too)?

I think what Brett Brackett has done organizing the Lift For Life is an amazing thing. They may raise in excess of over $100,000 this summer for kidney cancer—and it is all run by student-athletes and he is kind of the guy who runs it on our team. But there are a lot of guys who are involved in that. If you are in town for Arts Festival they are having the Lift For Life on that Friday—which I think is July 10th.

SpecialFans@JayPaterno How 'bout bringing Special Spectators 2 PSU? We give seriously-ill kids the complete CFB experience. IL, IN, MN, NU PU are in.

Get me some details and I’ll see what I can do.

lendamico@JayPaterno Just graduated the best class of WR in school history. How are Zug, Brackett and co. going to replace that production?

We won’t have three guys as dominant as those three guys were. We’ll play a lot of guys and have a lot of depth and you’ll see many guys contributing.

kenhesser@JayPaterno hey Jay is your brother Scott on here?

I don’t know—he may be lurking….

JAcker2L@JayPaterno JoePa talked about expansion of the Big Ten...3 teams you'd like to see considered?

My three (or four or five) teams for the Big 10—with geography not being a constraint—would be Texas, Miami, Hawaii and maybe Colorado and Utah. All those would be fun road trips for our fans and would be great match-ups. (but I would require that we close the season each year at either Colorado or Utah and I would “accidentally” miss the team flight back, get snowed in and have to ski for a few days).

Thanks for all the questions. I try to answer them as best as I can and I appreciate all your interest in Penn State Football and your support.