Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is interviewed about his dismissal at his home in State College, Pa. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno spoke with The Post’s Sally Jenkins in his first comprehensive interview since the Penn State scandal broke.

Her portrait of Paterno is a heartbreaking depiction of an old man, sick with lung cancer and befuddled by a wickedness he could not comprehend.

As we all remember too well, Paterno was forced out as head coach after a grand jury report was released that suggested he had under-played the alleged actions of his longtime defense coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky was arrested on charges of molesting boys over a 15-year period.

The interview, published online Saturday, is a must read for those who are, in the aftermath of the scandal, considering more stringent requirements for mandatory reporting of abuse.

Children's advocates have proposed various state laws that would expand current regulation. (Most laws mandate that certain professionals report suspected abuse.) Congressional legislators have proposed a bill that would call on all adults to report suspected abuse.

Critics have said such a law would be impossible to enforce.

The question is: Would such a mandate have changed things at Penn State?

Paterno told Jenkins he felt too unsure of the situation — and himself — to report Sandusky to anyone other than his superiors.

When an assistant coach told him that he saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy, Paterno told Jenkins:

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “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.”

Later, Paterno’s wife, Sue, told Jenkins:

“We are going to become a more aware society. Maybe we will look for clues.”

She went on: “I had no clue. I thought doctors looked for child abuse in a hospital, in a bruise or something.”

In so many cases of child abuse, too many of us think others — professionals or people in positions of authority — are on the lookout. If Penn State has taught us anything, it’s that usually no one is on the lookout.

Will the Penn state scandal make us all aware of our responsibility to report abuse? Or do we need legislation to force us to do that?


Related content:

Not just the Penn State coaches: Most of us look away from abuse

Penn State: What if the victims had been girls?

How adults justify not reporting child abuse