Penn State storiesbreath of fresh air

May 17, 2005 5:15 AM

I hope you will forgive me if I am not distressed by Tiger Woods failing to make the cut for a golf tournament for the first time in seven years. He may have missed a putt, but he will not miss a meal. Or a Bentley or Rolls if he wants one.

Forgive me too for feeling a wave of revulsion at reading that women’s roller derby is making a comeback. Or that I am really sick and tired of seeing the slave holding the umbrella over Michael Jackson’s head.

Or that I am delighted with the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s innovative online sting operation that revealed that the city’s bitterly anti-gay mayor spent his spare time on the Internet, developing intimate relationships with young men. When confronted by the paper, he said that while he had such relationships with adult men, he did not consider himself a homosexual.

Conversely, I am incensed at the huge time and space wasted in newsprint and on the air about the mixed-up broad, now seeking psychiatric counseling, who ran away from her wedding.

All of those stories were given prominent play in recent days, and all totaled together, meant nothing. Not a damn thing.

Beyond the trash, though, there were two news stories last week that were worth reading. Ironically, both came from the campus of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.

One involved Adam Taliaferro, who last Saturday walked on stage to receive a diploma for a degree in labor and industrial relations. He graduated with a grade point average of 3.19.

There are, of course, thousands of graduates receiving diplomas this month, so what was so special about Taliaferro? Certainly not that he had been a cornerback for Joe Paterno. A lot of cornerbacks graduate.

Not many, though, who were paralyzed four and a half years ago, as Taliaferro was when, as a freshman playing against Ohio State, he had the fifth cervical vertebra in his neck shattered by a Buckeye’s knee smashing into his helmet.

Doctors said he might never walk again, and put the likelihood at three percent. Taliaferro disagreed. He was back in school a year later, and now, graduating, plans on law school.

Behind all of this inspiring tale looms the presence of Joe Paterno, who is not only one of America’s great college football coaches but one of America’s great men. The graduation rate of his players is one of the highest in college football. He is not just a coach, but a trainer for life.

When Taliaferro was injured, Paterno sent an assistant coach, Joe Sarra, to stay with the family 24/7 during the critical weeks following the collision. Three months later, Adam took a few steps. Then he went from crutches to a cane to walking. Now Taliaferro lectures around the country to talk to victims of similar injuries.

Donations were so great that $300,000 left over after medical expenses were used for a scholarship fund in Adam’s name. Pete Thamel, who wrote Adam’s story for the New York Times, called his remarkable recovery "a testament to his will, his family’s strength and the support of coach Paterno and a Penn State community that embraced the Taliaferros in the immediate aftermath of the injury and in the following years."

Thamal also wrote the second Penn State story, about Mike Jacober, captain of the school’s lacrosse team. Jacober’s mother, father and younger brother were killed when the small plane in which they were flying to see Mike play crashed. The Penn State lacrosse team had won two games and lost four at the time of the crash.

The entire team, and 2,500 others, attended the funeral. The lacrosse team, inspired at Jacober’s spirit and leadership, rallied around him, and won its next seven games in gaining a bid to the 16-team NCAA tournament. Penn State’s athletic director, Tim Curley, called the turnaround "one of the most incredible things I’ve seen happen in college athletics."

I call it — and Adam Taliaferro’s story — the kind of news too often overlooked, and the kind that makes you want to get out of bed and try to do some good for someone, somewhere, -somehow.