Thursday, May 2, 2019

Interview: Jay Paterno says when problems arose, his father, Joe, "wanted to start working on solutions", not place "blame on someone"

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

This is the fourth of five articles spanning my discussion with Jay Paterno. The firstsecond, and third 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: Was there an essential element that guided your father as he dealt with whatever life brought his way?

Jay Paterno: If I heard him say this once I heard it a thousand times. When things went badly, or even when things went well he’d say “Look Jay, it’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s how you react to what happens to you in life.” There are few days when I haven’t thought about that.

He was always looking to the next challenge. Once he understood a problem he didn’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing it or laying blame on someone. He wanted to start working on solutions.

Cotto: In time, do you anticipate that your father's legacy will no longer be colored by the scandal?

Paterno: I think there will be greater and greater understanding over time. But I am not na├»ve. I know that there are many people who made up their minds and don’t care. We are now living in a hashtag nation where we must have even the most complex issues broken down into simple easily digestible hashtag sized bites.

The intelligent people with an intellectual curiosity will look deeper and they will see the truth. They will see how unjustly Joe Paterno’s life and legacy was stained for a time by his proximity—a proximity caused by his actions in reporting an allegation--to this story.

That is the truth and while my father is gone we carry it with us like a quiver of arrows to defend him in his absence.