Paternos continue push to restore coach's standing

Sue Paterno (right) is interviewed by Katie Couric on ABC. She discussed her late husband and said he was unfairly faulted.
Sue Paterno (right) is interviewed by Katie Couric on ABC. She discussed her late husband and said he was unfairly faulted. (LOU ROCCO / Disney-ABC)
Posted: February 13, 2013

The widow of Joe Paterno defended her late husband Monday as a moral man who would have acted forcefully had he known about early child sexual-abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

"If he knew in 2001 what he learned in 2011, yes, he would have done more," Sue Paterno said during an ABC interview with Katie Couric in which she made her first extended comments on the scandal.

She said she was "totally devastated" upon reading the Freeh report, which said that the longtime head football coach knew of an incident and police investigation involving Sandusky in 1998, and also of a second incident in the Penn State locker-room showers in 2001.

The inquiry by former FBI Director Louis Freeh found that Paterno, then-university president Graham B. Spanier, and two other top administrators conspired for more than a decade to keep quiet the sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky. Fearing bad publicity, the coach and president, along with athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a vice president in charge of campus police, "repeatedly concealed critical facts," Freeh said.

That enabled the former assistant coach, now serving what amounts to a life sentence in prison, to prey on boys for years, Freeh said.

Spanier, Curley, and Schultz are awaiting trial and maintain their innocence. Joe Paterno died of complications of lung cancer in January 2012.

On the Penn State campus Monday, about 30 people watched the interview in the library that bears Paterno's name.

"The timing of the interview didn't surprise me," said Okhtay Azarmanesh, an electrical engineering graduate student. "I think Sue wanted a good time to open up their side of the conversation. To see if we can learn from it and move on. One year has passed for a cool-off period."

"But at the same time," said Jerome Agele, a Philadelphia native studying adult education, "many people are not willing to change their opinions at this point."

Sue Paterno said her husband never spoke to her about the 1998 case, and "I don't even know for sure that he knew," she said.

Her attorney, Wick Sollers, said on the same program that Joe Paterno at most would have known that the 1998 case ended without charges. Paterno reported the 2001 incident - an assistant coach saw Sandusky molesting a boy in the shower - to his boss.

Couric asked Sue Paterno why her husband did not follow up more aggressively.

"We didn't have that mind-set that [Sandusky] was doing anything more than teaching them. The people that saw him every day had no clue," she said.

After child-sex abuse charges against Sandusky became public in November 2011, "we didn't talk about Jerry," except to express disbelief and to question whether they had somehow missed a sign, she said.

When she read the charges, "I actually got physically ill." Children were hurt, she noted, and she and her husband had worked all their lives to help children.

Sue Paterno spoke the day after the release of a family-sponsored report that sought to exonerate the legendary coach. The study denounced the Freeh report as inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading.

Freeh, retained by the university to conduct an impartial internal investigation, called the family report self-serving and said it "does not change the facts established in the Freeh report."

The new study was commissioned by Sue Paterno and compiled by agents selected by her lawyer. The report, an ESPN program on its release, and the ABC interview mark an effort by the Paterno family to restore the coach's reputation.

Sue Paterno was joined on the program by two daughters, her son Jay, and two former players, who affirmed the late coach's character and said he never would have tolerated anything as serious as child sexual abuse without acting.

One daughter, Diana, said of the criticism of her father, and of the removal of his statue from campus: "Clearly that hurts, but I knew who my dad was. ... Not for one minute did I think he did anything wrong."

Sue and Jay Paterno, a former Penn State quarterback coach, said the family would become more involved in helping agencies that deal with child abuse.

Sue Paterno noted that Sandusky fooled people for years, including the agency officials who allowed him to adopt children, and said: "If the experts don't know, how can we know?"


Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, jgammage@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @JeffGammage.

Correspondent Emily Kaplan contributed to this article.

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