Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: Paterno a great coach, great man

Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 3:15 PM
Last updated Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 7:37 AM
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In some ways, we all live for the obituary lede.


It is impossible to encapsulate a human’s life in one sentence, but that’s the system of remembrance we’ve created. All too often, all the good deeds of someone’s life can be hijacked by one tragic lapse in the obit lede.

Joe Paterno deserves better than that. His lasting memory should dig deeper than our last memory of his career.

Joe Paterno, whose 409 victories at Penn State are more than any other collegiate head football coach in history, died Sunday morning. He was 85.

Paterno, who coached in State College, Pa., for 62 seasons, 46 of them as head coach, passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer.

Paterno, the only active head coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007, was credited with winning two national championships even though he led his teams to four additional undefeated seasons.

Paterno, whose “Grand Experiment” of demanding academics be as valued as athletics led to consistently exceptional graduation rates among Nittany Lions football student-athletes throughout his tenure, lived a little more than two months after coaching his last victory.

Paterno, who contributed more than $4 million to support academics at the university and spear-headed the fund-raising efforts for the library expansion than bears his name, inspired mourning among his legion of fans who consider “JoePa” the heart and soul of Penn State.

Paterno, devoted husband of almost 50 years to his wife, Sue, and father of five Penn State graduates, leaves behind 17 grandchildren.

Seriously, there are so many different ways you could choose to illustrate Paterno’s life and legacy.

Paterno, who coached 78 first-team All-Americans and sent more than 350 players to the NFL including 33 first-round draft picks ...

Paterno, who devoted his entire life and career to college athletics and the development of the young men who played for him ...

Paterno, who turned down a $1.4 million offer in 1973 to coach the NFL’s Patriots to keep his $35,000 job at Penn State ...

Paterno, who was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1986 days before the Nittany Lions beat arrogant Miami in the Fiesta Bowl to earn his second national championship ...

Paterno, a two-way football star at the Ivy League’s Brown who got sidetracked into coaching at a “cow college” on his way to law school at Boston University ... 

Paterno, whose belief in team above all was displayed by the plain blue jerseys with no names on the back and white helmets with no logos ...

Of course, the Associated Press obituary that will appear in most media outlets around the world, led with a compound description in its lede reporting the coach’s death.

Joe Paterno, the longtime Penn State coach who won more American football games than anyone in major college history but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity, died Sunday. He was 85.

In my opinion, this is a dreadful tribute in so many ways. It applies equal weight to the final moments of his career as it did to the preceding 84 years. And it leaves the wrong impression that Paterno was the subject of the “child sex scandal.”

That Paterno should be forever tarnished by the despicable actions of a former assistant coach is grossly unjust. Make no mistake, Paterno failed to do everything within his power to report the alleged actions by Jerry Sandusky that were brought to his attention by a former quarterback and graduate assistant who witnessed one of the assaults. He passed the information to his superiors and trusted their poor judgment to take care of it.

Paterno admitted as much himself in the immediate wake of the revelations from the multiple grand jury charges against Sandusky.

“It is one of the great sorrows of my life,” Paterno said. “I wish I had done more.”

Penn State had no other choice but to force Paterno from his head coaching position (although it handled it in the most ham-handed fashion). A change needed to be made. A message needed to be sent that everyone in the university’s administration had the moral obligation to do more than it did.

But Paterno shouldn’t be held more accountable than anyone else in that mess. He paid a price for his inaction. But he should be remembered for his actions.

Paterno’s legacy for a lifetime of good deeds, strong service and admirable leadership should not be destroyed by the monstrous actions of someone else who betrayed his and everyone else’s trust.

Paterno was not infallible. None of us are. But he lived his life more admirably than most.

Joe Paterno was a great coach and a great man. In the end, that’s how he should be remembered and not by how it ended. 

 

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nnaugusta
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nnaugusta 01/22/12 - 04:54 pm
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Great coach, ok sure.

Great coach, ok sure.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 01/22/12 - 05:13 pm
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"All too often, all the good

"All too often, all the good deeds of someone’s life can be hijacked by one tragic lapse in the obit lede."

Scott, tell that to those little boys and their families.
There is nothing "Great" about a man who cares more for his career, winning and his paedophile rapist friend over the well being of children. Even people without children could get this.

You said , "Joe deserves better than that"....NO, those children did. Glossing over the matter and making sports more important than doing the right thing is grossly disgusting to say the least.

There is nothing Great about ths man.

etlinks
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etlinks 01/22/12 - 05:14 pm
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Good article Scott, thanks.

Good article Scott, thanks.

blues550
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blues550 01/22/12 - 05:15 pm
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Great coach yes, great men do
Unpublished

Great coach yes, great men do no enable pedophiles.

Chillen
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Chillen 01/22/12 - 05:50 pm
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I'm sure he was a great

I'm sure he was a great coach. But he was not a great man. Far from it.

He covered up the rape of young boys. That is evil.

Jake
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Jake 01/22/12 - 08:04 pm
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Great man, great coach, great

Great man, great coach, great person. Good article Scott.

Bruno
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Bruno 01/22/12 - 11:03 pm
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Sorry but you can't knowingly

Sorry but you can't knowingly cover up the sexual abuse of young boys and still be a "great" man, or "great" person. He was a winning coach. His ability to teach another person to play a game well will never erase his ability to set aside any morals and humanity he had in order to cover up sexual abuse of children. Do you value winning a game over the well being of children?

stanley
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stanley 01/22/12 - 11:27 pm
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I agree Bruno. There are

I agree Bruno. There are some things that simply transcend "sports". These were human beings who will never have a normal life. All he had to do was put himself above the fray and say I will NOT stand for this. IF he had just a fraction of courage, he would have done it. This was a coward. Not a great man.

Skeet099
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Skeet099 01/23/12 - 01:52 am
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A perfect example of what's

A perfect example of what's wrong with our society. Celebrity worship at it's finest. I'm not a big football fan. I'd be willing to bet there are many others like myself. I had never heard of this man untill the sex abuse scandal. I couldn't care less about his career or achievements as a football coach. IMHO his biggest achievement was teaching the rest of the world what not to do. I don't think the average person has gained anything from this man as a coach, but I think there are many who learned what it means not to be a man. I think we've all learned what it means to be weak, self-centered, uncaring, etc... I get the impression from the writer that this man could have killed someone and it would have been ok, because he was so successful on the football field. I'm sure had that been the case, the writer would have found some excuse that would relieve his beloved football coach of as much responsibility as possible. I find this article disgusting. The writer should show the rest of us some respect and let dead dogs lie. Pathetic!

Pickett
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Pickett 01/23/12 - 09:28 am
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I'm sorry, Mr. Michaux, I

I'm sorry, Mr. Michaux, I don't agree with you at all. I guess it's easy to pile on with extra comments, because the ones I have read sum things up pretty much for me. However, some of the things you discuss in the article underscore the problem. Things like "team above all" and "He passed the information to his superiors and trusted their poor judgment to take care of it" are exactly why he is not a great man. Sure, on the football field, it is "team above all". Off the field and in other surroundings, you should have each other's back until a moral code is violated. In this case, that ball was dropped. Forget the argument about McQueary's actions (or inactions). That's another discussion altogether. Once McQueary reported to Paterno what he saw, that should have been the trigger to get involved directly (by confronting Sandusky) or going directly to the authorities. Paterno failed to do both accounts. Just "passing it on to my superiors" is the same as burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all just go away... which it did for 8-9 years until it was all exposed. In that time following McQueary's discovery, how many more young men were violated? How many lives were ruined? How many un-reported cases were there because of Sandusky's perverse lifestyle? How many have taken their own lives because they just couldn't deal with it? I don't care how many All-Americans he had, National Championships won, or players he sent to the NFL. I only care about the helpless children he allowed to be violated because of his lack of a backbone. Am I being over-dramatic? maybe. Then again, so is your article on this guy. I thought the AP lead was spot on.

Cynical old woman
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Cynical old woman 01/23/12 - 10:14 am
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JoePa was a great coach and a

JoePa was a great coach and a greater coward. May God bless those that were victims thanks to his cowardly ways.

Carleton Duvall
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Carleton Duvall 01/23/12 - 10:28 am
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I am not going to "pile on".

I am not going to "pile on". Enough has been said to cover my thoughts about Paterno and this article. I would like to comment that it has always amazed me that when some guy dies who has had a somewhat questionable life all of a sudden becomes a great human being. It seems that not enough good things can be said about the deceased. Maybe that is the way that it should be and gives me hope that my own obit will forget my sins.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/23/12 - 10:41 am
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Mr. Duvall, all of a sudden?

Mr. Duvall, all of a sudden? Paterno has been considered a great human being for a long time.

Carleton Duvall
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Carleton Duvall 01/23/12 - 10:46 am
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I was not referring to

I was not referring to Paterno in my comment. I was referring to people in general. Read my comment again.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 01/23/12 - 10:52 am
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I don't believe most of us

I don't believe most of us have a problem forgiving sins, particularly at a person's death. I believe the issue is, (at least mine), is that our sins are to be confessed, repented of and amends made, not excused, rationalized or glorified. It is our God, the ultimate Forgiver and Savior who should be glorified in all things, especially through life and death.

Frankly, I don't know what could lie in the heart of any person who had this knowledge and just sat on it. I will be merciful and say this man and his supporters must have been (and be) completely emotionally dead. If I had to live knowing that I had the knowledge and had not acted passionately and aggressively to help those boys, death would have been a welcoming event. No amount of "wins" counteracts the losses of these children and their families. What a tragedy all around.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/23/12 - 11:01 am
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Yeah, Joe was a great guy,

Yeah, Joe was a great guy, but the problem is he stayed too long and was too old to recognize the problems. When he was told about Sandusky he knew that was going to be as big of a story back then as it is now...maybe even more so. So his memory is tarnished.

Carleton Duvall
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Carleton Duvall 01/23/12 - 11:20 am
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RM1, there you go again.

RM1, there you go again. Unless they are senile ,and Paterno wasn't, age does not prevent one seeing problems.

Bruno
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Bruno 01/23/12 - 12:22 pm
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Sorry, but you can't cover up

Sorry, but you can't cover up children being sexually abused and still be considered a "great human being".

follower
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follower 01/23/12 - 12:41 pm
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No question, what happened at

No question, what happened at Penn State was dispicable. And as Paterno admitted, he should have done more. But in an attempt to be objective, without the sensationalism from the media, put yourself in his position for a moment.

Paterno did not personally witness this crime. An assistant tells Paterno what he witnessed. Paterno immediately goes to his superiors. They tell him they will look into the allegation. Paterno doesn't know whether there is credibility in the allegation or not. He trust in the integrity of his superiors. He knows years later it was misplaced trust, but I find it hard to believe he would cover this up if he knew first hand there was a crime committed.

Now, if nothing was done, shouldn't the person who witnessed the crime firsthand have gone to the police? He was the one that witnessed the crime! He is much more to blame than Paterno. If the police turned a blind eye, the news organizations would have certainly jumped at the chance to break this type of news first, had the eyewitness gone to them.

Now, years later, Paterno is the most famous, and therefore the most newsworthy. As such, he is the scapegoat. The eyewitness and Paterno's superiors are much more to blame, but their lack of fame causes them to avoid the headline.

I may stand alone, but I agree with Michaux.

Pickett
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Pickett 01/23/12 - 01:34 pm
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@follower: I would buy into

@follower: I would buy into your argument if Paterno and Sandusky had not been life-long friends. How could Paterno not notice and question some of the things Sandusky was doing. He had to know or suspect something. These guys go back at least to 1966 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Sandusky), so I can't imagine Paterno not at least suspecting something related to Sandusky's pedophilia tendencies. I personally think Paterno knew it had to be true and still covered up for his friend. The bottom line is (and this is where I really question McQueary's character too) if you see a child being abused, then STOP IT. Not later, but NOW. Same goes for Paterno. If you hear of someone, anyone, is abusing a child, you ACT IMMEDIATELY. End of story. Paterno didn't do that.
Sorry, but it's the truth.

Bruno
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Bruno 01/23/12 - 01:34 pm
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Paterno knew and did nothing

Paterno knew and did nothing about it. Some people value winning a game over the well being of a child.

ammire
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ammire 01/23/12 - 02:28 pm
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Thank you, Scott Michaux, for

Thank you, Scott Michaux, for your tribute to Joe Pa. He was a decent man, who was judged ignorantly.

It's unfortunate that opinions are all too formed prior to even knowing all the facts of an investigation.

It's horrible that Sandusky snowed a whole community...it's horrible that children/families lives were ruined by his actions.

Happy Valley will never be the same.

follower
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follower 01/23/12 - 03:16 pm
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Pickett, there is a man I've

Pickett, there is a man I've known for almost 15 years. Not close friends, but we've had many conversations, most pertaining to doctrinal beliefs I thought we both shared.

He was arrested a few months back for dispicable behavior pertaining to children. I was floored, having been completely fooled. I tried to think back if there was ever any indication or clue that would have indicated this secretive life he was leading....and there wasn't. Could it be the same with Paterno?

Did Paterno know? I don't claim to have that answer. If he did, he had to live with that knowledge. If he didn't, and he did what he thought was right at the time, he's been accused of putting football ahead of decency, and his reputation, as well as his family, has been forever tarnished without a chance for vindication. Afterall, it was the Penn State administration that refused to allow Paterno hold a press conference.

Most of us the public have made up our mind concerning his knowledge, or lack thereof. Since I don't know for certain, the life that he lived prior to this issue leads me to believe he passed the responsibility on to his superiors, and that THEY dropped the ball, along with the eyewitness.

IMRIGHTYOUREWRONG
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IMRIGHTYOUREWRONG 01/23/12 - 04:29 pm
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There are many assumptions

There are many assumptions being made in regards to Joe Paterno’s actions or inactions involving the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but keeping in mind that the burden of proof falls on the prosecution’s side, let us look at the facts. Pedophiles frequently do not openly parade their exploits because many know that it will lead to their downfall. Ultimately, the one’s that do are caught and rightfully prosecuted. So to assume that a friend of some 50 years would openly exhibit signs of pedophilia is tragically misleading at best. I am not condoning Sandusky’s actions; I am merely stating that he would have felt a need to conceal them from everyone including one of his closest friends. Secondly, Mike McQueary admits to being less that vague when he first reported the allegations to Paterno. This is from his grand jury testimony. But as follower suggested, “put yourself in his position.” A young graduate assistant alleges, in a less than open manner, that he “might” have seen a sexual assault, again in not so many words, involving a man you have known for over 40 years, at the time, who has never even given the slightest inkling of this behavior. Yeah, I would be suspect of these claims too. What would I have done? Fortunately, I have never been placed in such a compromising situation. Undoubtedly, I would have followed the same recourse as Paterno and reported it to my immediate supervisors. The only thing I think I would have done differently would have involved following up with the claim to see where the investigation lead. But do you honestly believe if Paterno had confronted Sandusky, that Sandusky would have said, “Yeah, I did it. Guilty as charged. Guess you didn’t really know me after all, Joe!”? If you believe that then you are just as naïve as you suggest Paterno was. But to me, the greater issue is that if McQueary felt that what he saw was accurate, then his inaction is almost as punishable as the act itself. If McQueary, believed what he saw then he had a moral obligation to intervene at the time.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 01/23/12 - 04:47 pm
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I can visualize that little

I can visualize that little fellow in the shower with Sandusky brutally, sexually assaulting him. In the midst of great pain, physically and emotionally, he heard footsteps; he saw an approaching male adult (the assistant coach), his breath quickened, his bulging little eyes saw a glimmer of hope as he hoped beyond all hope that someone was going to come to his rescue ...but that did not happen. The assault continued as the little boy stood there in all of his shame. How often do you suppose, he and others just like him relive these events over and over?

If there was something that needed to be set straight, in my opinion, Paterno had the chance to do so. He didn't. The fact is, he was the Head Coach, it was his responsibility within that sports complex to oversee a safe and healthy environment as such and to follow through . He knew nothing was happening; there was no investigation, yet, he chose to remain quiet. He had choices, just as we all do and he made his.

As to the college president, assistant coach and any board members who shared the same knowledge, I feel the same way towards all of them. It was sports and Penn State's reputation selected over responsibilities, lives and law. By choosing not to act, Joe Paterno did, in fact act. Certainly, not alone, but in concert with those he held in greater regard. It is what it is. .and no amount of rationalization changes any of it.

We should not use his death to vilify him, nor should we use it to sanctify him. Should he be forgiven? Absolutely.

There is no man who should ever desire to be known as a "Great Man", but rather as a man, who had a "Great God".

Bruno
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Bruno 01/23/12 - 04:57 pm
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Paterno knew of the abuse.

Paterno knew of the abuse. That is not in question.

Bruno
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Bruno 01/23/12 - 05:01 pm
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Michaux, seems to be arguing

Michaux, seems to be arguing that a bunch of football victories out shines covering up the sexual abuse of children. I would be outraged but I am resigned to that being the mindset of sports heads.

Willow Bailey
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Willow Bailey 01/23/12 - 05:08 pm
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follower, with all due

follower, with all due respect, the scenario in regards to your 15 year friendship leaves out one very important aspect. YOU were NOT given information by someone who had an opportunity to know firsthand what your friend was accused of doing to children. Had you been told, particularly, if this criminal behavior was taking place in an area under your watch, responsibility and control and you did NOT report it and follow through....I'd have to say the same to you; What were you thinking? How could you risk this? Where were your values and your compassion?

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 01/23/12 - 06:35 pm
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Thanks for all the comments.

Thanks for all the comments. I appreciate them and understand some of the arguments. But it seems that many people are passing way too much blame on Paterno in this when HE did not molest any children and HE did not cover anything up. He reported everything he knew to his superiors. Even the law states that was all his responsibility required. Did he have a moral obligation to do more? Yes, I think we can all agree. Paterno admitted that he wished he'd followed up with his bosses to see what was being done. But HE did NOT cover anything up, Paterno spent his whole life trying to do the right things. He coached football with an integrity that exceeds all measures. He emphasized academics more than on-field success. He gave back to his school and his community in ways that far exceed most people. He stood for the all the right things. He was not perfect. None of us are. Good people make mistakes. This was clearly a mistake in judgment on his part. It is very easy for all of us who were not in his position to say how we would have handled the situation. I hope to hell I never have to deal with anything so overwhelmingly monstrous in my life. But to judge Paterno's whole life because he didn't follow up on what his superiors were doing seems harsh. The good he did in this world should not be thrown out by the failures of his superiors to respond appropriately to the information he gave them. Some will never forgive him. That is anyone's prerogative.

itsanotherday1
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itsanotherday1 01/23/12 - 06:45 pm
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Thank you Scott for the voice

Thank you Scott for the voice of reason.

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