Joe Paterno's First Interview About Jerry Sandusky Does Little to Clarify His Story

Sally Jenkins interviewed Joe Paterno for the Washington Post, his first interview since being forced out at Penn State following the Sandusky scandal. Paterno’s narrative was crucial, indefinite and in need of clarification. After hearing his version of what happened, the narrative remains crucial, indefinite and in need of clarification.

We needed to know what happened between Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno in 2002. What, specifically, did McQueary tell Paterno? How did Paterno respond?

Paterno’s recollection meshes with McQueary’s on the first question. A distraught McQueary visited Paterno the next morning. He used vague language, failure to explain specifically what happened. Even had he done so, it’s not clear Paterno was capable of processing it. The man who “likes to name drop Puccini and Virgil” should have read a bit more Suetonius. The Catholic should have picked up a newspaper in early 2002.

“You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno said. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

The second part remains muddled. Paterno says he took responsibility: “It’s now my job to figure out what we want to do. Though, he quickly abdicated said responsibility. He waited a day and then he “backed away and turned it over to some other people” who had “a little more expertise.” There’s no record he followed up on it. Neither he nor his superiors consulted the expertise of the proper authorities.

Paterno provides two explanations for his actions in the interview. Both may be true. He did not “feel adequate” to handle such a delicate matter. He feared the fallout from pushing such a matter if proven false. Neither justifies not reporting an alleged assault of a child to the police. His statement he would “get a bunch of guys and say let’s go punch somebody in the nose” if it happened to his own children rings hallow. He had the chance to act when it concerned someone else’s child and did nothing, for whatever conscious or subconscious reason.

The interview gives no clear answer why Sandusky left Penn State in 1999. The 55-year-old was a well-regarded defensive coordinator, in play for head coaching jobs and a logical (perhaps the logical) successor to Paterno. He gets told he’s not going to be the next head coach. He accepts an early retirement package. This abrupt sequence happens, coincidentally, right after a police investigation into Sandusky touching a boy in a shower that “nobody knew about.”

Paterno and Sandusky worked together for decades. They develop a Burton/Speke level rift. Paterno claims their relationship was purely professional, and he cannot recall the last time the two spoke. Was this built up animosity over 30 years of working together? Was this fallout from the incident where Paterno told Sandusky he would not be the next coach? Or, was it something else?

Joe Paterno wishes he had done more in hindsight. So do the alleged victims, their families and everyone affiliated with Penn State University. Good people can make mistakes. Paterno’s was catastrophic.

Previously: Joe Paterno Should Resign as Penn State’s Head Coach
Previously: Mike McQueary’s Testimony on Witnessing Jerry Sandusky in the Shower With a Boy
Previously: Penn State Never Fired Joe Paterno

[Photo via Getty]

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