Did Joe Paterno really not know “how to handle it?” In an interview with the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, the former Penn State coach spoke about his reaction in 2002 when assistant coach Mike McQueary told him Jerry Sandusky had sexually abused a child in the 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.”
That's the crucial question -- do you believe Paterno when he says he had no experience with the topic of child molestation and didn't handle it well because of shock, or distaste? Or do you say, nobody is that naive? Paterno is 85, and he was 75 at the time that Mike McQueary came to him and said he saw Jerry Sandusky doing something to a boy a shower. McQueary has testifed that he was purposefully vague with Paterno, out of deference to his age and generation. He said, "You don't talk about those things with Joe Paterno." That leaves open the question of whether Paterno understood the seriousness of what he heard and after his reported it to his superuors, simply turned a blind eye as a form of coverup, or didn't follow up because he was uncertain of his ground and didn't want to be seen as interfering. I don't think the story solved that one. Paterno insists on the latter interpretation.
Several readers asked Jenkins whether she believes Paterno’s version of events. Her answer:
I don't know. That's my best answer. I wrote a story about a man battling on three fronts, fighting for his life, and his life's work, and his reputation, who had decided to break his silence. Some of his answers I found completely genuine, some I'm not as sure of. I'd prefer the reader simply make up their own mind. I'm actually happy that the piece has drawn such divided, varying responses -- the fact that some people totally believe Paterno, and some people don't buy him at all.
More on Paterno:
— Poll: How do you feel about Paterno’s handling of the situation?
— Video: Jenkins discusses her interview with Paterno
— Story: Paterno’s first interview since the Penn State scandal
— Excerpts from the interview with Joe Paterno
— Photos: Paterno takes a look back