Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Not much -- if anything at all -- has yet to be written about the Penn State scandal. From its eruption in late 2011 until the trial of its perpetrator ended almost one year later, it dominated headlines.
The sexual perversion and beastly, let alone predatory, nature of Jerry Sandusky shocked the United States, then eventually the world. Nowhere was the gruesome surprise more acutely felt than in the unassuming borough of State College. Nestled among the rolling mountains of north-central Pennsylvania, its metro area is one of the safest in America.
Indeed, State College is so far removed from the trials and tribulations of Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh that trouble there often comes from activist professors who brandish a most unique lethal weapon -- annoying those around them to death.
Amid such a tranquil environment -- bad as the professors might be, one can hardly compare them to gang-bangers who shoot innocent bystanders for wearing the wrong colors -- the Sandusky story was far from anticipated. That it came out of a landscape Norman Rockwell would have painted makes the situation even more terrifying.
Perhaps nobody was more horrified than Joe Paterno, Penn State University's legendary football coach who had Sandusky at his right hand for decades on end. When Sandusky was indicted, allegations flew at the entire Penn State administrative body. Singled out beyond all others, even President Graham Spainer, was Paterno.
His near-half-century tenure could not withstand political scrutiny and the media firestorm which fueled it. As with most emotionally-charged situations, folks wanted someone to blame, and Sandusky was not enough. Paterno was fired from his post in November 2011 and died just over two months later.
He never did get the chance to comprehensively counter the public sentiment which rose against him -- the general feeling that he had some idea of what went on but stayed quiet so his team could go about its business.
Paterno's son, Jay, has devoted much of his time to clearing the air which permeates his father's legacy. A successful coach in his own right, he is the author of Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father. Jay recently spoke with me about many topics pertaining to his father's life. Some of our discussion is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: In spite of his awe-inspiring career accomplishments, many people hear your father's name and think of the scandal. Beyond anything else, what is most misunderstood about how this relates to your father?
Jay Paterno: Because he had name recognition he became a central figure in this case from a media standpoint. Why? Because his name moves the social media needle.
At the end of November 2011 The NY Times sent an e-mail to all of their subscribers about how they covered the story. In that e-mail they mentioned Penn State six times, and Joe Paterno four times and never mentioned the name of the man who’d been charged with the actual crimes. The week after the story broke Saturday Night Live’s Weekend update did a skit on this and mentioned Penn State and Joe Paterno and they too never mentioned the name of the man charged with these crimes.
The Grand Jury investigation and testimony into the investigation of Jerry Sandusky lasted roughly three years. What people do not realize is that Joe Paterno was questioned at the Grand Jury for seven minutes…seven minutes that is it. Why? Because he did not commit a crime, he did not even witness a crime all he did was report the only .... allegation ever brought to his attention exactly as he was supposed to by University policy and by state law.
These are difficult crimes to comprehend. I understand that people think that a powerful football coach should be able to do certain things. But the reality is that these types of crimes must be reported in a very specific way to protect the anonymity of the victim, to keep the accused from being able to tamper with evidence or intimidate the victim and to protect the integrity of the investigation. Like all citizens equal under the eyes of the law Joe Paterno was bound by that.
People in education, the medical field and the military all understand the reporting protocol and many of them have relayed their understanding of what my father went through with me.
What really sparks my ire is that there have been vicitims’ rights groups—who without even knowing the facts of this case—have been vocal and very critical of Joe Paterno. One of the worst outcomes of this case would be for people to continue to vilify someone like Joe Paterno who reported the allegation. It sends a chilling message to others who might suspect abuse that if they come forward their lives could be ruined.