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Joe Paterno, Marvin Miller mark 2012 sports deaths

Thursday - 12/27/2012, 6:18am  ET

FILE- In this Sept. 15, 2002, file photo, San Diego Chargers' Junior Seau does a celebration dance after one of his seven tackles in the Chargers' 24-3 win over the Houston Texans in an NFL football game in San Diego. Seau, the one-time fierce linebacker of his hometown Chargers, shot himself in the chest on May 2, 2012, leaving no note and so many in football shaken. He was 43. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)

FRED LIEF
AP Sports Writer

He went to work where a statue of him stood outside the stadium, his place of business for more than a half century. He would not live to see the statue hauled away.

The other never had a statue erected in his honor, although some said there should be one, bronze or otherwise, at the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He would live to see himself spurned by the Hall five times.

Joe Paterno and Marvin Miller, a couple of New Yorkers, were bookends to the year's losses in sports -- the football coach dying at 85 in January, the union leader at 95 a few days shy of December.

The year's obituaries in sports also came with a tragic soundtrack of gunfire: Junior Seau, Hector Camacho, Jovan Belcher. More quietly, baseball now moves on without Gary Carter and basketball without Jack Twyman and Rick Majerus. Big names in boxing like Angelo Dundee and Carmen Basilio also were lost.

Paterno's legacy was a complicated mix of football and education, universities and leadership, responsibility and justice. Miller was an often unspoken part of a running conversation about the culture of money of sports, and the rights of the people who play the games.

Paterno's death came less than three months after it was disclosed he had lung cancer. That news fell on a State College, Pa., community already shocked by the child sex-abuse revelations regarding longtime assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno's death closed a sweeping narrative, although the legal fallout and emotional wreckage are still very much alive. The swiftness of it all was almost Shakespearean in scope: the fall of a man who for so long was the symbol of everything right in his work only to be undone by scandal and cast aside.

In his blue windbreaker and black-rimmed glasses and his words still carrying echoes of Brooklyn, Paterno was the face and foundation of Penn State. He raised many millions of dollars for the school. His was the voice of perspective and reason in college sports. He won more games than anyone else, until the NCAA over the summer vacated victories dating to 1998. Legions of Penn State players -- and countless others in State College -- swore by the man. He been on the coaching staff for more than 60 years, and had been the head coach since 1966. He was JoePa.

But then came the startling accusations and subsequent conviction, after Paterno's death, of Sandusky. Paterno insisted he followed the chain of command, informing his athletic director of what he was told had happened, although he did not go to the police.

Paterno said he was not given a graphic account of Sandusky's locker-room rape of a young boy. Later, with the Washington Post in his last interview, he acknowledged a naivete -- "I never heard of ... rape and a man."

Paterno's remorse had already been clear by then. Hours before Penn State trustees fired him, he said: "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Miller sent a bulldozer through the landscape of Major League Baseball, and by the time he was done the terrain of all professional sports would never look the same.

Miller, with silver hair and mustache, cut his union teeth with the steelworkers. Surely one of his biggest triumphs was getting players to think of themselves as an organized work force with rights, not hired hands serving at the whim of ownership.

"He changed not just the sport but the business of the sport permanently," former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "And he truly emancipated the baseball player -- and in the process all professional athletes."

Miller ran the union from 1966 to 1981. He clashed with owners and commissioners who were wary of him every step of the way. When he started, the minimum salary was $6,000; this past season, the minimum was $480,000. When he took over, baseball was still a decade away from its first million-dollar player; today, the average salary is $3.2 million.

And it was not only the players who grew rich as the game became more popular than ever. The very owners who fought Miller watched the value of their franchises soar to fabulous sums.

The springboard was free agency and the end of the reserve clause that bound player to club. The landmark decision came in 1975 when arbitrator Peter Seitz sided with the players. Seitz later would refer to Miller as baseball's Moses.

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