Post interview will change no one's mind on Paterno

Posted: January 15, 2012

Joe Paterno spoke, and nothing changes. Those of us who believe he didn't do enough still believe it. Those of you who think Paterno was scapegoated by Penn State still believe it. Anybody angered, on any side of the fence, still is. Anybody saddened or sickened by any aspect of the whole horrible affair still is.

We learn from Joe Paterno's interview with the Washington Post, made public on Saturday, his theoretical reaction if one of his relatives were abused.

"Violence is not the way to handle it," Paterno told Sally Jenkins of the Post. "But for me, I'd get a bunch of guys and say, 'Let's go punch somebody in the nose.' "

His wife, Sue Paterno, added: "If someone touched my child, there wouldn't be a trial; I would have killed them. That would be my attitude, because you have destroyed someone for life."

Of his own actions in 2002 after Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, came to him and said he had seen former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky with a boy in the shower in Penn State's football facilities, Paterno said: "I called my superiors and I said, 'Hey, we got a problem, I think. Would you guys look into it?' 'Cause I didn't know, you know. We never had, until that point, 58 years I think, I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn't feel adequate."

"I didn't know which way to go," Paterno said of why he didn't follow up more. "And rather than get in there and make a mistake . . . I didn't know exactly how to handle it, and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. 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."

"You would think I ran the show here," Paterno said of public perceptions.

So for those who wonder why Paterno didn't act as if that boy in the shower in 2002 were his grandson, you always will. Those of you who want to attack the media for driving Paterno out, resume fire. Nothing changes. Franco Harris and others will continue to attack the actions of Penn State's board of trustees. Paterno continues to insist he knew nothing of a 1998 investigation into allegations of Sandusky molesting a child, that it had nothing to do with Sandusky's retiring from Paterno's staff in 1999, never to coach again.

Nothing in the interview will ease the ill will felt by Penn Staters who believe Paterno was railroaded; it is clear there is continuing anger in Paterno's own house, judging by the description of how Paterno was relieved of his duties over the phone. We learn that Sue Paterno called vice chairman of trustees John Surma right back and said, "After 61 years he deserved better. He deserved better."

Paterno was speaking publicly for the first time in detail about his own actions. He wasn't sitting down to talk about the future of Penn State's football program. The effects of the whole scandal aren't about how Bill O'Brien will make out, or even what Paterno knows or thinks of his fellow Brown University graduate. O'Brien's name wasn't mentioned in the story.

Paterno's attorney, present for the two-part interview held on Thursday and Friday, had to be satisfied with his answers to questions. And, for the record, Sally Jenkins is one of the country's finest journalists. Her job wasn't to play prosecuting attorney but to get Paterno to say as much as he would on the record.

The overall tone of the Post piece is one of deep sadness, and it portrays how this is a tragedy from any angle. Paterno, accused of no legal wrongdoing, wanted to talk despite, and maybe even because of, his own serious health problems. Jenkins wrote how lung cancer caused the 85-year-old Paterno to struggle to get enough breath to say all he wanted to say as he sat in a wheelchair. "His hand showed a tremor, and a wig replaced his once-fine head of black hair . . . wracked by radiation and chemotherapy, in a wheelchair with a broken pelvis," Paterno didn't eat at a family dinner, he just sipped Pepsi with crushed ice.

Jenkins wrote that Paterno was so eager to defend his record that he insisted on continuing the interview from his bedside Friday morning, even though he was ill. He was hospitalized later on Friday due to complications from chemotherapy, but family members told her he had improved by Saturday morning.

Paterno said that if Sandusky is guilty, "I'm sick about it."

That, all sides agree on. That, obviously, will never change.

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489,, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at

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