Finally, Joe Paterno has spoken. In an interview with the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, the former Penn State coach discussed the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Reaction has been sympathetic to the plight of an old man fighting lung cancer who says “I wish I had done more” to prevent the scandal, but otherwise Paterno’s comments appear to have done little to change people’s minds about the awful situation that brought about his downfall at the school.
“Joe Paterno spoke and nothing changes,” Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes.
Those of us who believe he didn’t do enough still believe it. Those of you who think Paterno was scapegoated by Penn State still believe it. Anybody angered, on any side of the fence, still is. Anybody saddened or sickened by any aspect of the whole horrible affair still is.
Paterno is not under investigation. Sandusky has been charged with over 50 counts of abuse; former athletic director Tim Curley and PSU vice president Gary Schultz face charges of perjury and failure to report abuse. In the interview with Jenkins, Paterno spoke of his reaction that day in 2002 when assistant coach Mike McQueary told him Sandusky had abused a child in the Penn State locker room showers.
“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno told Jenkins. “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.” Steve Politi, Newark Star-Ledger columnist, found that explanation rang hollow.
Paterno doesn’t sound like a man who didn’t know how to handle it. He sounds like one who didn’t want to handle it. He called his supervisors. He let them deal with “the problem.” And then he never followed up because, according to Jenkins, “he did not want to be seen as trying to exert any influence for or against Sandusky.”
There is no discussion in the Post story about the boy in the shower, or if Paterno considered the potential for other victims, or if he even now understands the scope of what is alleged to have happened. Most of it is Paterno painting himself as a Clueless Joe, hopelessly out of touch.
“We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that,” he said. “And I didn’t feel adequate.”
Not adequate enough to dial 911?
ESPN’s Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett examined each of Paterno’s comments, made in the presence of his lawyer, about what he knew and when he knew it and what actions he took.
This interview likely won’t settle the debate between those who say Paterno was martyred in this scandal and those who think Paterno bears a large share of responsibility. You can believe Paterno did what was legally required and was too old to understand the ramifications of the [Mike] McQueary allegations [of Sandusky raping a child in the showers at Penn State]. Or you can believe Paterno simply didn’t want to know more about what was happening.
In the end, we all want to know how something this ugly could have occurred at Penn State or anywhere. After Paterno’s first interview — and given his health, who knows how much more we’ll hear from him — we’re still left wondering.
This story certainly doesn’t endear the reader to Paterno. It doesn’t make us feel better about him being the one McQueary went to, and it certainly doesn’t absolve him of any wrongdoing in this matter, even if he legally fulfilled his obligation to report to his superiors.
Poll: How do you feel about how Paterno handled the situation at Penn State?