My reactions to the Sally Jenkins interview with Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno finally put out his side of the story nearly two months after a grand jury indicted Jerry Sandusky on many counts of doing horrible things to boys. I am glad that Paterno finally spoke, even though he doesn’t say much. It needs to be mentioned that the journalist, Sally Jenkins, was handpicked by Paterno and his PR firm. Paterno is also undergoing cancer treatment and was hospitalized later in the day the interview was concluded. Make sure you read the whole story (linked below) before reading my points.

My approach to this was an odd dichotomy — I already concluded in November that Paterno lost the moral standing to be head football coach, but I feel he has been unfairly scapegoated and made at focus of this scandal when there are several people, namely Gary Schultz, university president Graham Spanier (the contempt I have for him!) and of course, Sandusky who are far more culpable. Schultz, along with Tim Curley, athletic director, have yet to be fired and are on administrative leave and are charged with perjury. Apparently, that is less of a crime than actually reporting to them the Sandusky allegations.

Joe Paterno’s first interview since the Penn State-Sandusky scandalThe Post

How Sandusky, 67, allegedly evaded detection by state child services, university administrators, teachers, parents, donors and Paterno himself remains an open question. “I wish I knew,” Paterno said. “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s hard.”

Yes, Sanduksy was undetected for years by countless people, not just Joe Paterno.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

That is certainly plausible and even reasonable, but I am not satisfied with it from the moral authority of college football. He should have followed up more and he admitted he did not. Paterno used the perception of being the morale authority of college football to build a tremendous amount power for himself and his program.

Paterno is accused of no wrongdoing, and in fact authorities have said he fulfilled his legal obligations by reporting to his superiors.

This is forgotten by many. Legal responsibility is a lower standard than moral responsibility though.

Nevertheless, the university Board of Trustees summarily dismissed him with a late-night phone call four days after Sandusky’s arrest. At about 10 p.m., Paterno and Sue were getting ready for bed when the doorbell rang. An assistant athletic director was at the door, and wordlessly handed Sue a slip of paper. There was nothing on it but the name of the vice chairman of trustees, John Surma, with a phone number. They stood frozen by the bedside in their nightclothes, Sue in a robe and Paterno in pajamas and a Penn State sweatshirt. Paterno dialed the number. Surma told Paterno, “In the best interests of the university, you are terminated.” Paterno hung up and repeated the words to his wife. She grabbed the phone and redialed.

“After 61 years he deserved better,” she snapped. “He deserved better.”

Paterno did deserve better, much better than the way this was handled. Still, there was no way he could have been on the sidelines again. I remember the saying from Russell Frank’s media ethics class — if it appears you have a conflict of interest, you have a conflict of interest. I said initially, that Paterno should have resigned outright as soon as the scandal broke because 1.) he still had some moral authority left 2.) show the administration that failed everyone, except Jerry Sandusky, the way out the door. The board should have put Paterno on administrative leave — it was good enough for two administrators, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley who had in the eyes of the prosecution perjured themselves. Graham Spanier, the former university president, who should have been terminated based on his complete refusal to engage in crisis management, resigned just before the board would have fired him.

Paterno was initially reluctant to speak because “I wanted everybody to settle down,” he said. But he is so eager to defend his record that he insisted on continuing the interview from his bedside Friday morning, though ill. He was hospitalized for observation later in the day due to complications from the chemo but, according to the family, had improved by Saturday morning.

Remember, Spanier, canceled Paterno’s regular Tuesday press conference after the allegations broke. Spanier’s only other action — publicly supporting Schultz and Curley.

What Penn State officials knew about Sandusky and when is the subject of no fewer than five formal investigations. They range from state Attorney General Linda Kelly’s criminal investigation of Sandusky, to an NCAA inquiry, to Penn State’s in-house inquiry led by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh. The best-case scenario is that the institutional leaders were guilty of blindness, and an unfeeling self-absorption. The worst case is a criminal cover-up to protect a wealthy university’s reputation.

Yup. By the way, I have serious concerns about the attorney generals who investigated this case — why has the Second Mile where the alleged victims were found by Sandusky, been a bigger focus than Penn State?

On a Saturday morning in 2002, an upset young assistant coach named Mike McQueary knocked on Paterno’s door to tell him he had witnessed a shocking scene in the Penn State football building showers. Until that moment, Paterno said, he had “no inkling” that Sandusky might be a sexual deviant. By then Sandusky was a former employee, with whom Paterno had little to do. Although Sandusky had been his close coaching associate and helped fashion Penn State defenses for three decades, their relationship was “professional, not social,” as Paterno described it. “He was a lot younger than me.”

This is an important point missed by many outside of the immediate Penn State community — Sandusky and Paterno were not friends. I do not believe Paterno socialized with any of his coaching staff.

Sandusky retired in 1999, shortly after Penn State made the Alamo Bowl. The timing was curious. Paterno’s understanding was that Sandusky took early retirement on his recommendation after Paterno told him frankly that he would not become his successor. The state was offering 30-year employees a handsome buyout, and Paterno believed Sandusky should take it. Paterno was frustrated that Sandusky spent so much time working on his youth foundation, The Second Mile, that he was not available to help in recruiting and other coaching duties…

“He came to see me and we talked a little about his career,” Paterno said. “I said, you know, Jerry, you want to be head coach, you can’t do as much as you’re doing with the other operation. I said this job takes so much detail, and for you to think you can go off and get involved in fundraising and a lot of things like that. . . . I said you can’t do both, that’s basically what I told him.

Concerns about Sandusky’s dueling commitments was also cited as a reason Sandusky was unable to get hired for the University of Virginia opening.

Paterno insists he was completely unaware of a 1998 police investigation into a report from a Second Mile mother that Sandusky had inappropriately touched her son in a shower. The inquiry ended when the local prosecutor declined to bring charges. “You know it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about,” Paterno said. “Nobody knew about it.”

This was one of my big questions when the story break — who knew in 1998 and was a deal made to let Sandusky retire “honorably” instead of pressing charges? The answer is Paterno did not know and thus was not part of any “deal” with Sandusky. Had he been, I’d be asking for the statue to come down.

Paterno contends that ignorance was the context with which he heard McQueary’s disturbing story in 2002…“He was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it,” Paterno said. “He told me what he saw, and I said, what? He said it, well, looked like inappropriate, or fondling, I’m not quite sure exactly how he put it. I said you did what you had to do. It’s my job now to figure out what we want to do. So I sat around. It was a Saturday. Waited till Sunday because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. And then I called my superiors and I said: ‘Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?’ Cause I didn’t know, you know. We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate.”

Legally, Paterno correct in reporting it to his superiors. He did put a lot of thought into it, but still came to a conclusion that was, in mind, insufficient.

At that point, Paterno set up a meeting for McQueary and Curley, the athletic director, and Schultz, who oversaw university police. McQueary has testified that he gave both men a far more graphic description of what he witnessed…Schultz and Curley have maintained that McQueary failed to impart the seriousness of what he saw to them as well. They never told police about the allegation, instead informing Sandusky he could no longer bring children to university facilities.

Currently, the prosecutors agree with McQueary’s assessment and that is why Curley and Schultz are accused of perjury.

Paterno has said, “In hindsight, I wish I had done more.

Paterno’s portrait of himself is of an old-world man profoundly confused by what McQueary told him, and who was hesitant to make follow-up calls because he did not want to be seen as trying to exert any influence for or against Sandusky. “I didn’t know which way to go,” he said. “And rather than get in there and make a mistake . . .”

Paterno wasn’t always so reluctant to put in a call on some things and the “old-world man” idea is in a way choosing to be blind to something. That’s a tough spot, that I can’t come to a conclusion on. Not wanting to mess up an investigation?

According to Sollers, the attorney, Paterno has no legal exposure in the Sandusky case. Paterno has cooperated fully with the investigation, and has “met on multiple occasions voluntarily” with representatives from the attorney general’s office, Sollers said. “In my judgment Coach Paterno has no legal liability in this matter. In fact, he acted completely appropriately in reporting the only allegation he received to his superiors and had every expectation that the allegation would be investigated thoroughly.”

Like I said earlier, legal and moral are two different things. That’s Paterno’s attorney speaking too.

The Paternos say they think about the real potential victims every time they look at their own children. “I got three boys and two girls,” Paterno said. “It’s sickening.” His knee-jerk response is to go back to Flatbush. “Violence is not the way to handle it,” he said. “But for me, I’d get a bunch of guys and say let’s go punch somebody in the nose.” Sue Paterno is more blunt. “If someone touched my child, there wouldn’t be a trial, I would have killed them,” she said. “That would be my attitude, because you have destroyed someone for life.”

Other people’s kids, well he’d just tell his bosses and hope for the best it seems.

The Sandusky investigation has torn apart a cloistered town-and-gown community where everyone knows everyone — including Sandusky.

The university community there and elsewhere is fighting itself over this scandal.

If nothing else, the Paternos say, perhaps the Sandusky case will raise consciousness in other communities the way it has been raised in theirs. “We are going to become a more aware society,” Sue said. “Maybe we will look for clues.” She wonders what signs she missed all those years, when they felt so successful and sure of themselves.

Hardly an original thought, but true nonetheless (see, Bernie Fine)

It remains to be seen, barring any new revelations, whether there will be a reappraisal of Paterno’s life and record at Penn State. Eventually, his family hopes, there will be healing and forgiveness in the community, and the outlines of the man they insist Paterno is, and not the monument or monumental target, will reemerge: A modest, decent, fundamentally devoted coach who always loved books more than money.

I think he will be remembered more charitably as we move away from this, but the first paragraph of his obituary will have “Jerry Sanduksy” in it.

Paterno’s record is not perfect. Anyone who won on his scale has an ungenerous competitive streak and nascent ego. His love for higher learning — he likes to name-drop Puccini and Virgil — could tip over into superiority. He could show a temper, as he did in 1995 when a camera caught him delivering a profane on-field tirade.

Really, the Doug Graber “incident” gets brought up?

His football program was not immune to the problems of big-time college athletics. An ESPN inquiry found that from 2002 to 2007, 46 Penn State football players faced criminal charges. But he liked working with problem cases and turning them around. “Hotshots,” he still calls them today. The 2007 team had 19 players who earned Academic all-Big Ten honors. “The bigger the problem the guy was, the more I enjoyed it when we had success,” he said.

That ESPN 46 players inquiry was full on inaccuracies and perhaps overblown. Basically, the football team had a “a drinking and fighting problem” that was not unique to football players at Penn State. Does that excuse it, of course not. Was it bad, yes, but it wasn’t exactly the Luther Campbell Hurricanes either.

His philosophy was simple. “My thing was play as hard as you can, don’t be stupid, pay attention to details, and have enough guts in the clutch that you’re not afraid to make a play,” he said. “

In the Jerry Sandusky matter, did Joe Paterno live by that philosophy? My conclusion is, sadly, he did not live up to it.

The moral I take from the whole story is if you see something going wrong, make sure you do everything you can to get the right people involved, namely the police. Don’t count on superiors or anybody else to do it for you.


CHAT: Joe Paterno interview: Sally Jenkins discusses her talk with ex-Penn State coachThe Post
Penn State Football: 65 Days Later, Why Jenkins Got the Call From
Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins talks to ComRadio – ComRadio

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