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'A Man Is Not Finished When He's Defeated. He Is Finished When He Quits.'

by on June 16, 2011 5:53 AM

My intention with this moonlighting gig as a columnist was never to become someone who wrote about sports all the time. Of the 47 columns I have written for, 18 have had to do with sports.

But the news coming from college football of late has made it very difficult to ignore it as a subject. Every day this summer it seems a new detail or a new story emerges to cast another dark cloud over the game I have committed a good chunk of my life to.

This time of year, college football is generally out of the spotlight until late July or August when fall camp begins for the upcoming season.

Not this summer: It has been a steady chorus of allegations, accusations and investigations resulting in resignations and NCAA litigation. (That's some good final-syllable alliteration)

At recent alumni events, I've been asked by Penn Staters about the Ohio State situation and about Terrelle Pryor. The night he left school, I even got messages from people who were almost gleeful about the latest developments.

When Pryor went to Ohio State, both Joe Paterno and I were blamed by some media members and fans for being the reason he went elsewhere. Most would expect that I was happy the way things turned out.

Watching how this story has ended hasn't given me any joy. Quite the contrary, it has bothered and even saddened me.

Terrelle Pryor first visited our offices in the 10th grade. He was a young man who had already committed to play college basketball at Pitt. In recruiting, you meet family members, friends, neighbors and coaches. Over a few years, you become aware of the threads that form the fabric of a recruit's existence.

The night before the signing day in 2008, Terrelle called me. I talked with a young man with a heart heavy from the pressures of what the next day would bring. There was confusion in his voice when he told me he couldn't decide between Penn State and Ohio State.

The decision that he and so many other high school students have to make about where to go to college is tough enough – without a live, nationally televised news conference staring you in the face. The next day there was criticism when he opted to wait a few more weeks to sign.

During the current NCAA investigation, it has been easy for members of the media to vilify a young man for mistakes he made. The decisions and the path he chose were all a result of behavior that was learned from adults.

It is not instinct; it is learned behavior.

Where else in the world can a 17- or 18-year-old get a national television audience to tell everyone where he is going to college? What are we telling these young men? We grant them an inflated sense of their self-importance, and then we are surprised when they believe the hype we created for them.

The cruelest lesson for all of the young men out there is how quickly it all turns on you. The members of the media and public who threw you bouquets your whole life are the same ones slinging rocks at you as soon as things go badly. The people who placed you atop the pedestal have become the ones trying to knock you off.

ESPN's slogan has been "College Football Lives Here." Where college football lives now is in an overly-hyped world of a 24/7 news cycle that identifies the "next best thing" as soon as the last "next best thing" has left the stage.

The road to the NFL is littered with guys who had national announcements on signing day and never made it as a starter in college or never made it to the pros. It is littered with guys who broke rules with the hype-fueled belief that somehow they'd float above it all.

When I see a young man going through the pains of public "defeat," I am reminded of advice I once received from my father. Years ago, I was struggling with the growing pains of my life. I was about the same age Terrelle Pryor is now.

My father gave me an article from the New York Times. In that article he had circled a line. It was a quote from a note that Richard Nixon had sent to Ted Kennedy amid the turmoil of Chappaquiddick. Nixon had lost a tough election to Ted Kennedy's brother and had suffered another election defeat before rising again to become president of the United States. But he did not judge Ted Kennedy. He offered him something to help.

The quote said: "A man is not finished when he's defeated. He is finished when he quits."

It is important that, for any young man falling down on the public stage, the final score is not settled in the fall, but in the rise. Everyone in college football can heed that advice as our game recovers from a tough year and a tougher summer.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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