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Game Over For Penn State Coach Joe Paterno


And attention quickly shifted last night from the debate to a development rocking the sports world. The coach with the most victories in college football history was fired last night, the latest turn in a child sexual abuse scandal that's enveloping Penn State.

Meanwhile, the NBA lockout goes on. And in Major League Baseball, a promising young player has reportedly been kidnapped. For more on all of this, we turn, now, to NPR's Mike Pesca. He joins us from our bureau in New York. Good morning, Mike.


MONTAGNE: Let's start with Penn State, which of course is more than a sports story, after a former assistant to head coach Joe Paterno was charged with sexually abusing young boys. The school fired its president last night, and Paterno. Can you put into perspective what this football coach, this college coach, meant to that campus?

PESCA: Well, he was the very embodiment of the football team and really, the school. His longevity, his success, his methods were the best thing about that university for many of the people who went there. And so we see images of students rioting, some of them overturning a news van. And we might find it perplexing because when you get down to it, whatever Joe Paterno's merits – and there were many – in this case, he was a minimal satisfier in reporting and trying to root out a child sexual predator.

But so we have to think about the deep emotional connection that a lot of the students have, that a lot of people at Penn State had, and they were just reacting to what they see as the injustice of firing Paterno. Earlier in the day, Paterno himself had said that he will be retiring at the end of the season. He is 84 years old.

The school would not mind him to have retired - and, you know, that's a longstanding feeling among many of the trustees, having nothing to do with the child sexual abuse case, but having to do with having an octogenarian head coach. But he was tough, and he always hung on, and the last thing he wanted to do was to be the author of his own fate and to say, I'm going out on my terms. The trustees said, actually, that is our responsibility in this case; that is all about responsibility. And they took it, and they fired Paterno.

MONTAGNE: And Mike, while Penn State was reacting to that announcement, pro basketball players and owners met until early this morning in a Manhattan hotel - and still no deal. What's the latest on the NBA lockout?

PESCA: Well, we would normally see this as just another one of these negotiations - after 140-plus hours of total negotiations. But what – the reason that people were watching this particular session was that David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, had issued an ultimatum. And he had said that yesterday, if there was not a deal done, then the next offer will be much worse for the players. Basically, he was trying to put pressure on what was a stalled negotiation. But hearing David Stern at a 2 a.m. press conference, he said: I would not read into this optimistic or pessimistically. We are not failing; we are not succeeding; we're just there. So there he's sounding kind of like the Zen-like Phil Jackson, former coach of the L.A. Lakers.

I don't know what to read about that except to say they will be negotiating again today. All reports are that they are very, very close to agreeing on terms. But close could mean that they - both sides have hit the point that they won't breach or go between. So we don't exactly know, but I think it's probably more optimistic than it's been in a while.

MONTAGNE: And Mike, we just have 40 seconds here, but just want to get in a little bit about Wilson Ramos, catcher for the Washington Nationals, reportedly been kidnapped in Venezuela.

MONTAGNE: Yes, we don't have many facts beyond that, but news reports - several news reports out of Venezuela, and this was confirmed by the team that he was playing winter ball with. He had been kidnapped. Four members – four gunmen took him into a car. We don't know much more.

Kidnapping the family members of professional baseball players is not unheard of. Yorvit Torrealba, Ugueth Urbina - these are a couple of the baseball players who've had family members kidnapped. This is an instance where a player himself is kidnapped, so the whole baseball world will be watching this situation.

MONTAGNE: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca, speaking to us from our New York bureau. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.