Paterno’s First Post-Scandal Interview Is Sad but Revealing

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January 14, 2012; Source: Washington Post | On Sunday, one of the Washington Post’s superb sports writers, Sally Jenkins, bylined a heart-rending interview with former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. As NPQ Newswire readers know, Paterno was dismissed after charges came to light of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of children from his Second Mile charity, including an alleged shower room that was reported to Paterno.

This was Paterno’s first full interview since his firing. While desperately sad in so many ways, his comments about Sandusky and Penn State are also kind of shocking. Jenkins quoted Paterno offering this explanation of his less-than-energetic follow-through on the incident that was reported to him by assistant coach Mike McQueary:

He [McQueary] was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it. 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. . . . 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.

Paterno said he rarely talked to Sandusky and didn’t have an inkling that Sandusky might have been using the Second Mile charity as a place to troll for potential victims. In fact, Paterno admitted telling Sandusky that his chances to succeed him as Penn State coach were limited by the amount of time that Sandusky spent at Second Mile:

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.

To some observers, Paterno may deserve a pass given his age (85) and his health (news has emerged of his contracting cancer, breaking his pelvis in a fall, and undergoing a tough regimen of chemotherapy). But it appears that adolescents and young teens may have been victims because he took a very passive role in following up on the report (which McQueary says included terms much more graphic than “fondling”) of Sandusky’s alleged shower room abuse. Read his statement again, and it seems that Paterno was, sadly, mostly focused on Penn State, not on the possibility that kids were being molested by the former assistant coach under his watch.—Rick Cohen