Perhaps JoePa knew, or feared, the end of his life was coming soon when he agreed to meet with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post two weeks ago in what would be his final public words (unless something comes forth posthumously, such as taped conversations, etc.)
Paterno spoke to Jenkins about the Sandusky scandal. He reiterated what has held up firmly since the scandal broke:
- He had no knowledge of the 1998 investigation into Jerry Sandusky
- In March, 2002 he reported to two high-ranking PSU administrators what Mike McQueary told him he saw Sandusky doing with a boy in the showers of the football facility.
What was left to ask, and what almost everyone - both the rational and the irrational - has wondered since is, what happened in the aftermath? What happened in the weeks and months and years after March, 2002? Why didn't Paterno do more? If he believed McQueary saw "fonding" or something of a "sexual nature," as McQueary told him, then surely he pursued it further, right?
Previously, a few days after the scandal broke, Paterno said: "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.'' To Jenkins, Paterno said "he was hesitant to make follow-up calls because he didn't want to be seen as trying to exert influence either for or against Sandusky. 'I didn't know which way to go ... And rather than get in there and make a mistake.'''
That sounds plausible and reasonable - he wielded a lot of influence, and didn't want to interfere. But there has to be more. It was disappointing Jenkins didn't follow-up, or Paterno didn't elaborate.
It turns out there was more.
In a follow-up from the Washington Post editorial staff - which made sure the world knew that the Washington Post thought Paterno "confirmed an abdication of leadership" - there was this quote from Paterno (which, strangely, was not in Jenkins' original story; apparently the editorial board saved it for theirs): “You know, I probably should have gone back and said, ‘Hey, where are we with this kid? With this coach?’ ”
Well, that is more. To many that will be enough. Game, set, match - Paterno failed miserably. Failed tragically.
That might be right. Maybe Paterno simply trusted AD Tim Curley, a veteran administrator with a good reputation and a former PSU football player, VP of campus police Gary Schultz and president Graham Spanier to do the right thing.
What possible reason could he have had to not trust them? To be suspicious they wouldn't do the right thing, wouldn't do their job? They always had. Of course they would.
Of course they didn't. As Paterno said, "It didn't work out that way." What Paterno should have said, is "They royally screwed it up, kids probably were molested because of it, and I'm suffering immensely for it.'' But Paterno wouldn't do that, not publicly to the media, at least. Because it isn't going to undo anything, isn't going to undo the sexual abuse, and it isn't the right way to do things - the Paterno Way.
Then there's this possibility:
Maybe Paterno did not specifically follow up, but surely, unquestionably, at some point after March, 2002, either Curley or Schultz or Spanier, or some combination thereof, communicated with Paterno about the matter. It's impossible to believe otherwise and makes no sense. In all likelihood, one or more of them let him know ...
Let him know what? Whatever was conveyed, it apparently convinced Paterno not pursue it much further, if at all. Or at least to not pursue it enough to make any sort of a difference, before Sandusky had allegedly molested and abused many more.
Paterno has always done way he thinks is right, no matter the consequences. He has an incredibly long track record. He built up such a reputation for decades. It was ingrained in his character, as tens of thousands have attested, forever.
So then, what was Paterno told, or what was conveyed to him by the administration, that made him not do more? To think he had done the right thing already and now the matter was behind him?
Whatever it was, why wouldn't he say it to Jenkins? It very well could be because Paterno wouldn't throw someone under the bus, not to the media. He wouldn't play the blame game, not in public. He wouldn't interfere with the legal process, or the PSU investigation.
Those are things he simply wouldn't do. Never has.
We're talking about someone who wouldn't utter a bad word, or bench, PSU QB Rob Bolden this season. Despite relentless outcries from all corners - including surely his own coaching staff - to choose one QB from between Bolden and Matt McGloin (most wanted Bolden in the beginning, then McGloin after a few games), Paterno stuck to his guns, and did what he thought was right.
Bolden was going to class and getting good grades and working hard at practice and trying his best on the field (presumably). Paterno would never denigrate someone doing such things. So as bad as Bolden was for most of the season - and he might have been the worst QB in America in October - Paterno wouldn't demean him, not a bit. Wouldn't even bench him.
On the contrary, skip a couple classes and dog it in practice? Well, Paterno wouldn't publicly rip that player, either - not by name, at least. He simply wouldn't play him or talk about him, except, when asked, to say something vague about how Player X needs to "take care of some things.''
And thus, Paterno never did say what Curley/Schultz/Spanier may have conveyed to him. Because it won't undo Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse. It won't take Paterno back in time and give him a second chance to do more. And because in Paterno's procedure manual, it's the right thing to do.
Even as he was dying, with the national media mutilating his reputation, Paterno continued to adhere to his entrenched, exceptional value system. Not only wouldn't he divulge anything that might tar someone else, but he wouldn't say anything bitter or resentful about anyone or anything. This after he was fired by telephone late at night in the middle of the season after 62 years by the university he had devoted his life to. This after a guy he had employed for more than 30 years singlehandedly destroyed his reputation and the school he loved.
Should Paterno have made a desperate attempt to help clear his name at the expense of someone (or someones) else?
Others might have. Many, many others. Not Paterno.
That never was his way. Right to the end.
(Postscript: One big question that remains is whether Paterno spoke with those involved in the PSU investigation into the Sandusky scandal, or to prosecutors working the perjury cases against Curley and Schultz. If so, what he might have said to them, under oath, could be far more revealing than anything he said to the media. Also, Paterno biographer Joe Posnanski was with him frequently the final weeks, and his story for Sports Illustrated this week ends with this Paterno quote: "It doesn't matter what people think of me. I've lived my life. I just hope the truth comes out. And I hope the victims find peace.")