Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Interview: Jay Paterno, Joe's son, says Louis Freeh ignored evidence, played "'Blame The Dead Guy'"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in February 2017.

This is the third of five articles spanning my discussion with Jay Paterno. The first and second pieces are available on-line. 
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: Today, your father's legacy lives on. Due to the Sandusky scandal, more than a bit of controversy surrounds it. On account of his death soon after the media firestorm erupted, was your father cheated of the opportunity to alter how news media portrayed him? 

Jay Paterno: There is no question that his death ended his ability to defend himself. The NCAA, Penn State’s Board of Trustees and Louis Freeh in crafting a report that recklessly and perhaps maliciously cast false blame on Joe Paterno went unanswered by him. There is an old saying in any crisis “Blame The Dead Guy” and there is no question that happened here.

Keep in mind that the Freeh narrative the media jumped on was arrived at without subpoena power, without talking to the major people in this case and even in its own synopsis the report states that these are only conclusions—not facts.

The actual prosecutors in the case who had subpoena power, who interviewed everyone in this case, who looked at all the evidence concluded that Joe Paterno had been honest, forthcoming, had followed the law and was in no way involved in any attempt to conceal or cover anything up.

But those statements clearing him went largely unreported by the media. But in his place his family, former players and loyal friends and alumni have stood up to defend the school, the program and Joe Paterno.

Cotto: Your father's professional life featured many high-profile accomplishments. Of these, which was he the most proud?

Paterno: I’m not sure I could answer that for him. He relished the things that the team accomplished more so than anything else. He was not someone who spent much time reminiscing about individual honors. He was always focused on the next challenge—so even if he were here to answer this question himself he’d be hard pressed to tell you.

What I can tell you is that he was always most proud of the underdog who came through. We had guys who may have struggled to grow up, or struggled academically but when the lights came on and they got it and when they graduated those are the moments when I saw him the proudest and happiest.