As you all can imagine, the Penn State child sex abuse scandal has been a very taxing time for so many people, including myself. Emotions have been running high in the aftermath of everything that has happened over the last months, and it was interesting to receive some perspective from my old coach.
While reading Sally Jenkins’s interview with Joe Paterno, I naturally cross-referenced some of his answers with my memories, as I was there from 1997-99 — the time an investigation of Sandusky had taken place. Of course, coaches are more in the know about information pertaining to the team than players, so I can't confirm for coaches but I honestly believe that Paterno did not know of the investigation. State College, Pa., is a very small place. If knowledge of the investigation had surfaced in any way it would have leaked out and everyone would have known, basically the same way everything has unfolded now. I know that players on the team definitely had no knowledge of any information like this. Again, any news was news in our locker room so it would have spread like crazy among players.
As Penn State football players we were held to such a high standards and would be conveniently reminded through something called “awareness training,” which was a training session specifically designed for those who fell below that standard set for us. It was a clear message to do things right or suffer the consequences.
Because as players we were held to that standard and were disciplined if we wavered, we had no problem with pointing out double standards. If the players had known about any coaches doing wrong, we would have demanded an explanation.
My understanding as it pertained to Jerry Sandusky's retirement, which also was my final year there, was kind of along the same lines as what Paterno said. I was under the impression that after Sandusky realized that Paterno was planning on staying and that he would not have the chance to be head coach, with such a talented group on defense and so many graduating at the end of the year, this would be the perfect time for him to leave. Maybe that's some of my ego involved, but we were a talented group which boasted the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2000 draft along with more draft picks off that defense. So it didn't seem strange at all that he would leave after the 1999 season, especially how active he was with The Second Mile. I figured he'd do that for a few years and then go coach somewhere else.
Reading the interview and knowing the man doing the interview, it came across that his answers were his answers. Coach Paterno is a face-value type of guy. It's well documented that Joe and I weren't the best of friends — I was never one of his favorites — but he never lied to me. There's not one time I can recall that Joe Paterno lied to me. Made me mad? Yes. Got under my skin? Yes. Challenged me and pushed me to be more than just a football player? Yes. He never lied to me. As a matter of fact, his sometimes-painful honesty is partly why I'm so blunt in my responses to questions at times.
I could also feel Coach Paterno’s pain through his words in the interview. So many people have rushed to judge of him and the entire situation. Knowing Coach, he's probably more upset about the negative view of the school rather than himself. He loves Penn State so much and he dedicated his life to making it a great place to be educated — not a boast, just the truth. After all, his hard work, effort and yes, his money, made the place what it is today.
I am not a Joe Paterno apologist, but I do know that he stood for right and taught right and my interpretation of the tone of his interview was it's a man offering his truth as he fights lung cancer. God forbid anything happened to him before all of the facts come out, but it seems as though he has told his side and people can take it or leave it, but at the least he did offer how he saw the situation.
It’s my opinion that Paterno and the football program that he built have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the media and the public by those who should've made sure that this situation was handled properly. It's so apparent that the easiest way to distance themselves from the truth is to allow others to shoulder the weight of their insufficiencies. After all, nobody knows the names of the decision makers, but everyone knows Joe Paterno.
Looking at how things have been handled by the board of trustees since the arrest of Jerry Sandusky, along with the handling of the search for a coach, all roads they choose seem to lead to dead ends, and that's why they have taken so long to make decisions and have received so much criticism from alumni and current students. It's not right how these people used him, and for that matter, Penn State football. But it will all come out in the wash eventually, and I hope Paterno is around to see it happen.
They say that those things built upon solid foundations can endure all kinds of catastrophes, so if what Joe has built is truly real, it will take way more than the evil actions of a few to tear down what he spent a lifetime building.
Leave your comments here and chat with me on Twitter: @LaVarArrington.
More on the Paterno interview:
— Q&A: Sally Jenkins takes questions about Paterno
— Poll: How do you feel about Paterno’s handling of the situation?
— Video: Jenkins on 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