Monday, January 16, 2012

The truth, and the real issue, about Joe Paterno now

Joe Paterno finally speaks, inflaming the Sandusky scandal again (at least for a day or two), yet most people still can't properly assess what Paterno did, and we're no closer to answering the biggest unknowns about what Paterno didn't do

So, Joe Paterno met with a reporter from the Washington Post last week (Sally Jenkins) and basically told the same story he told the grand jury about the infamous March 2002 Sandusky/boy/shower/fondling/sexual in nature/Mike McQueary-witnessed incident, only with some more details and while suffering through cancer treatments.

(Washington Post story here:

And instantly it was like November all over again, only on a slightly smaller scale, as Sandusky/Paterno fatigue has begun to set in a little bit. (Then again, everything for the remainder of human history will be on a smaller scale compared to PSU in November 2011.) Mayhem took hold for a little while on the internet and in the media:
  • The media cropped the least flattering snippets of Paterno's Washington Post commentary and made it into headlines: "Paterno says, 'I didn't know exactly how to handle it'" or "Paterno says, 'I didn't know which way to go'" or "Paterno says, 'I felt inadequate'" ... as long as it makes Paterno look bad and grabs attention, it's headline material, apparently.
  • Other media contorted Paterno's words to make him sound grossly ignorant, or disingenuous, or a manipulative liar, such as one ESPN reporter asking if Paterno really could have believed there was no such thing as child sexual abuse, which is of course not what Paterno said or implied. This reporter of course isn't the first at ESPN to distort Paterno's words and meaning to try to make JoePa look like the Fuzzy Zoeller of child abuse enablers (see Rome, Jim)
(To those who think respected national media outlets wouldn't be so egregiously misleading, check out this headline from CNN after Jay Paterno announced last week he would not be joining new PSU head coach Bill O'Brien's staff: "Paterno's son quitting Penn State amid scandal." Um, what? O'Brien allows JayPa to announce his departure as a mutual decision, and CNN slaps him with a "quitting amid scandal" headline. Pathetic.)
  • Internet commentators, bloggers, etc. shredded Paterno for his alleged moral failure, continuing their refrains from November.
  • Meanwhile, those who have supported Paterno continue to support him, citing his strong desire to speak on the matter as an indication of his relatively clean conscience, and his story consistency an indication of his honesty.
Paterno finally has spoken, but little has changed, right?


More than two months has passed since the scandal exploded and yet nothing really significant about the March 2002 Sandusky/McQueary incident has emerged in that span. As time goes by it becomes more clear that JoePa did the right thing in March 2002 - as long as you're looking at it from an honest and informed place, which a great many can't do because they simply can't get beyond the words "child sexual abuse" and "Paterno knew."

In fact, Paterno seems to have done exactly the right thing at that time.

Who should Paterno have told, when presented with what McQueary told him he witnessed happening with Sandusky in a PSU football building? The two people with administrative jurisdiction: the VP in charge of campus police (note the word POLICE - yes, Paterno and McQueary told the police in the form of Gary Schultz, VP of campus police) and the PSU athletic director, Tim Curley, who is responsible for the athletic facilities and that specific building.

(Remember, McQueary spared Paterno any explicit details and only told Paterno he thought he saw something "sexual in nature." It is not as if McQueary told Paterno he had witnessed rape, because McQueary specifically did not say that to Paterno.)

Administrators. The people whose job it is to handle such matters. Any school administrator will tell you this. Coaches coach, teachers teach and administrators deal with all the compost.

Pass along the information to the administrator(s), whatever that information is, and the administrator takes it from there.

Of course, in this instance, the administrators did virtually nothing, and therein lies a tragedy.

As Paterno said to the Post, "I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. 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.''

If you think the previous few paragraphs are convolutions intended to shelter Paterno, play this game: create a similar scenario at another major college/university.

For example, play the game with Duke basketball (this is PURELY HYPOTHETICAL), with the people involved being Mike Krzyzewski, aka Coach K, as Paterno; some recent former Duke player, say Jon Scheyer, as Mike McQueary; and a Duke icon/legend, say Grant Hill, as Sandusky (sorry, Grant).

Duke grad assistant Scheyer witnesses Hill in a Duke athletic facility sexual abusing a boy; Scheyer tells Coach K about it (tells a watered-down version at least, which is what McQueary told Paterno); Coach K in turn tells the Duke AD and the Duke VP in charge of campus police; and Coach K arranges for Scheyer to give the AD and VP a first-person account of what he saw, which Scheyer does.

Seems like Coach K (and Scheyer) did the right thing, right? Of course they did. If Duke administrators then do their job and investigate and ultimately bring Hill to justice, Coach K is lauded for putting aside his loyalties to Hill, an all-time Duke great with a sterling reputation, and putting aside his personal interest in protecting Duke University and Duke basketball, and reporting possible child sexual abuse by Hill to the proper persons. Right?

That's what Paterno did. Why so many people can't see this is startling.

With that settled, Paterno is far from in the clear on this matter. Because it's nearly as unclear as ever what the heck happened after that, between roughly 2003 and 2009.

Where was the follow-up from Paterno, and from McQueary for that matter, in the extended aftermath? By the time 2003 and 2004 rolled around, weren't they wondering what the heck was being done about Sandusky, specifically about what McQueary saw Sandusky do?

The Post story, as good as it is under the circumstances - it can't be easy interviewing a blanketed, wheelchair-bound 85-year-old undergoing cancer treatments - is lacking in this area. Jenkins apparently did not press Paterno on the matter beyond this: "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,''' he told the Post before trailing off.

Okay, that sounds reasonable from Paterno. After all, he's Joe Paterno, he wields much influence at Penn State, and inserting himself in such a delicate matter would be viewed as high-powered meddling, potentially.

But, that can't be it, that can't be everything. There has to be much more. Paterno must have spoken about this matter again, in some context, with Curley, with Schultz and perhaps with president Graham Spanier and maybe others (Board members?). Or they must have spoken to him about it. When that happened, what was said? What was Paterno told? What did he ask them? Why didn't he push them harder whenever it became clear Sandusky essentially would go unpunished? And what did he and McQueary say about it later, to each other?

This is the crux of the matter right now, based on what we know and don't know, with regard to Paterno.

Paterno has said, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." He is the only one who has held himself accountable to any extent. But we need to know more, too.

2003-2009 ... The time after Paterno reported the 2002 incident, up to the time the grand jury began investigating Sandusky and then expanded their investigation and contacted Paterno and McQueary. What happened during this time? This is the question Paterno (and everyone else) must answer much better. 

Of note is what was happening at that time in Paterno's life, specifically during 2003-04: He was coaching the worst teams of his legendary career, by far. PSU, in one 22-game stretch from the end of 2002 until late 2004, lost 17 of 22 games.

Paterno, the guy who supposedly knew and controlled everything at PSU, the King of Happy Valley, was in truth now in his late 70s, hanging onto his job by a thread and a national punchline, as his team had become a punching bag. He was, on the national sports scene, the quintessential example of a guy who had a great career but didn't know when to quit, hung on too long and was ruining his legacy. He was viewed as a caricature of himself.

That's not an excuse for Paterno not strongly following up on the Sandusky matter, it's just a fact and worth mentioning. Why? Because this image of an Almighty Lord JoePa of Happy Valley who could have had Sandusky imprisoned, or whacked, with a wave of his hand if he so desired is an absolute fallacy.

Then again, Paterno might have been old and failing professionally, but he remained the head coach at PSU and McQueary was still on staff, and McQueary seemingly has never wavered in what he saw that fateful night. So where was the follow-up from these two? What happened?

This is where Paterno must say more, and must be asked more about this specifically. And if JoePa doesn't have much more to say about it, then this is where pointed, harsh criticism of JoePa should to be aimed. Not at his reporting of what McQueary told him; Paterno actually was excellent in that regard.

Schultz, based on his knowledge of the 1998 investigation into Sandusky and the 2002 incident, is guilty of, at the least, gross irresponsibility, and deserves what he has coming. He is the one person sure to roast in all of this, based on what we know now. As for the others, including Paterno, we might have to wait for the PSU investigation or the Sandusky trial to get a more complete picture.

And, with JoePa's health so fragile now, we might not hear very much more from him at all.

One other thing about Paterno: When the scandal broke like an avalanche in November, much discussion centered around the Center County DA having investigated a child molestation allegation against Sandusky in 1998 (Sandusky inexplicably wasn't charged), and then Sandusky resigned from coaching PSU in 1999. Many people tied the two events together and figured Paterno must have known about the investigation into Sandusky, and it led to Sandusky's resignation. It made sense to link the two.

Yet, in the two-plus months since, no evidence has come forward indicating Paterno knew. No one has said anything such as "I was involved in the 1998 investigation and I know Paterno was told about it," or, "I was in the room when Joe spoke to Jerry and said Jerry would never be head coach, and Joe told Jerry right then he knew about the investigation.'' Nothing of this sort has come up.

As of right now it appears Paterno actually may not have had any knowledge of the 1998 investigation, which Paterno reiterated in the Washington Post interview. Back in November it sure seemed plausible evidence would come forth showing Paterno knew about the 1998 investigation. But that hasn't happened. Not yet at least.

A few other things to keep in mind about all of this. Of all the people swept up in the Sandusky scandal, Paterno is the only one who has repeatedly desired to speak publicly and then actually done so, despite the fact he's fighting for his life with chemo and radiation treatments.

And, more importantly, know this: Over the course of Jerry Sandusky's decades long reign of terror over young boys in central Pennsylvania, surely many people had the opportunity to try to do something to stop him. To speak up to a boss or superior, to tell the police or the media or their supervisor or the administrators in power, be they people affiliated with Penn State or Penn State football, or affiliated with Sandusky's The Second Mile charity, where he met virtually all of his alleged victims, or at the high school (Central Mountain High) where Sandusky coached for at least seven years after retiring from Penn State and where he reportedly became much more brazen in his grooming of victims. Whoever, wherever - surely many had a chance to try to do something.

Many along Sandusky's vile path of horror must have seen or heard or been told something, and could have tried to do something about it. Yet, besides two of the victims' mothers, we know of only two people who actually, of their own accord, stepped forward and tried to report Sandusky to the next highest authority:

Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno.

Administrators or investigators or a grand jury did not come to them before they said what they knew. They did it on their own. Yet they are vilified by so many.

The 1998 Sandusky investigation was brought about by the mother of an alleged victim, who contacted university police, which led to the DA investigation. The 2009-11 grand jury investigation was precipitated when the mother of an alleged victim went to the Central Mountain principal with her suspicions about Sandusky. The principal met with the alleged victim, who said he was sexually assaulted by Sandusky. The principal told the mother, and the mother notified the local child protective services, initiating - finally - Sandusky's downfall.

Two mothers, McQueary and Paterno are the only people known to try to do something, anything, in an attempt to have Sandusky looked into.

Meanwhile, sports media's most revered publication, Sports Illustrated, hailed as heroes two coaches at Central Mountain High who provided "unsparing and unambiguous answers" and a "precise and independent account" of their experiences with Sandusky to the grand jury - after they were approached by the grand jury and sworn under oath and made aware of what the grand jury was investigating Sandusky for.

(Sports Illustrated story here:

One coach said "Sandusky would get into shouting matches with Central Mountain students ... (and was) 'clingy' and 'suspicious' with one freshman boy in particular." The other coach said he "had once seen Sandusky lying on a weight room floor, face-to-face with the boy in question, with his eyes closed."

These two coaches had eyewitness, first-person information of Sandusky's perverse grooming behavior yet they never said anything to anyone of greater authority about it. They never tried to report Sandusky to the school principal. They sat on it. And they had witnessed it.

Hailed as heroes, they were in fact enablers. They may never have reported what they knew about Sandusky if the grand jury hadn't come to them, if that mother hadn't acted on her suspicions and eventually spoken to child protective services.

Why didn't these coaches come forward with this information? Who knows, but they are part of what is a long, largely anonymous line of people who didn't.

Paterno and McQueary are in the very short line of those who did. For what it's worth.


  1. Agreed!! Mike McQueary was the ONLY person to actually see anything. All the rest is hearsay. McQueary is the one who should have gone to the State Police and sworn an affidavit.

    May GOD have mercy on his soul!!!

  2. You make a good argument, for a Paterno apologist. But if I play your hypothetical game with Coach K at Duke, I come up with the same result every time: Coach K stopped the abuse, followed up with the administrators, put pressure on the administrators, located the boy, went public with the info, etc. The fact that Paterno is still playing dumb (such as denying he understands man-boy child abuse) should be your first clue that something is/was amiss with him. Coach K would have made a better decision, there would have been an uproar but most importantly, innocent sons would have been protected from grisly abuse. The current scenario is like Armageddon for everyone, the victims, PSU, Paterno. And, you're here to defend Paterno's action, or lack thereof? I don't want to see the guy ripped apart either, but he's got a golden opportunity to correct the situation for the benefit of many by owning up to the truth here, not just come close but get to the heart of it. Sometimes when people get caught up in empire building, they lose sight of what's most important. Paterno had the power here and he chose to be passive. Why? Who knows...everyone is speculating. But I guarantee its not due to his current excuse- that he didn't understand. Nobody is buying this except you and a few apologists but if Paterno really wants to vilify himself and help the situation, he'll simply apologize for his failure. That, evidently is beyond his reach.

  3. I agree with the above post. Joe Paterno is still trying to protect his legacy by acting innocent and hoping everyone will go along. The more I hear him hem and haw around the truth, the less I care about his 46 years or his hard work, or him. Joe knows what's up & so does everyone else. It seems paradoxical but if he admits he was a douchebag, people will think well of him again.

  4. It's obvious that Paterno meant he never knew of any man who had raped a child/another man, and not that he is unfamiliar with the concept. Anyone/everyone over the age of 12 or 13 is familiar with the concept. It's ridiculous to think that Paterno meant otherwise, to think he was trying to say he's the only person in the world not familiar with the concept. And while Paterno may be guilty of doing far less than he should have, there is no reason to not believe what he's saying, there's no evidence he has lied about anything. Also, in the scenario presented by "Unknown" above, about what Coach K would have done in the same situation, if Coach K had done all that, he would be the first person ever to be so diligent and heroic. The world sadly seems plagued by adults who allow child sex abuse perpetrators like Sandusky, Bernie Fine, Bill Conlin, Graham James, Bobby Dodd, Bob Hewitt, the Red Sox clubhouse attendant, et al, to go on with their lives without investigation or justice. Whether it's due to shame, conflict avoidance, or to cover-up and protect someone or something, it's done, all the time. Otherwise how would these people get away with these horrifying actions for so long? Take the Central Mountain High coach who witnessed Sandusky, lying on the weight room floor, face to face with a freshman boy, with his eyes closed. Why didn't this coach report Sandusky?!? It's a mystery and tragic flaw of human behavior, apparently.