Joe Paterno wishes he had done more after hearing accusations in 2002 that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had been caught acting inappropriately with a young boy in the Penn State locker room, but admits he "didn't know which way to go" with the information.
In a lengthy interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, Paterno's first since he was fired from the university on Nov. 9, Paterno reveals his thought process during a fateful meeting with graduate assistant Mike McQueary, as well as his regrets about the fallout that cost him his job and permanently tarnished his legacy.
Last month, McQueary — a State College native and former starting quarterback who remained on Paterno's staff until the scandal broke in early November — testified that he personally saw Sandusky with his arms wrapped around a boy's waist in a shower, and believed (although he was not 100 percent certain) that the boy was being sodomized. He immediately called his father, and they decided he should go to Paterno the next day. In his interview with Jenkins, Paterno said he didn't feel "adequate" enough to deal with the charge:
"(McQueary) was very upset and I said why, and he was very reluctant to get into it," Paterno said. "He told me what he saw, and I said, what? He said it, well, looked like inappropriate, or fondling, I'm not quite sure exactly how he put it. I said you did what you had to do. It's my job now to figure out what we want to do. So I sat around. It was a Saturday. Waited till Sunday because I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. And then 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.
"You know, he didn't want to get specific. And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."
Paterno said he told athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz what he saw and left it in their hands to do the right thing:
"I didn't know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was," he said. "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."
Curley and Schultz never reported Sandusky to authorities, who now say he went on to abuse other boys until the investigation that led to his arrest began in 2010. Sandusky is facing several dozen felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade.
Curley and Schultz are both facing charges of perjury and failure to report, and maintain that McQueary "did not indicate there was something of a sexual nature" during their meeting. At the time, Curley responded by telling Sandusky he was banned from coming into the building with children from his charity, The Second Mile, but otherwise did not restrict access.
The other interesting tidbit in the story surrounded Paterno's firing. An assistant athletic director delivered a piece of paper with the name of Penn State vice chairman of trustees, John Surma and a phone number to Paterno's home. Paterno, who was in his pajamas, called the number and Surma told him he was fired. After 61 years , that's it. Paterno's wife, Sue, was so upset that she redialed the number after Paterno hung up. "After 61 years he deserved better," she said. "He deserved better."
The interview was done last week in Paterno's home and was monitored by Paterno's attorney Wick Sollers of the Washington law firm King & Spalding, and a communications adviser, Dan McGinn of TMG Strategies. Paterno, 85, is currently battling lung cancer and was confined to a wheelchair during the interview. On Friday, Paterno was admitted to a hospital in State College with complications from ongoing chemotherapy treatments.
While the interview is interesting because it's the first time Paterno has spoken to the media since he was fired, the story is hardly a revelation. In general, it rehashes the accepted account as outlined in previous testimony, then splashes in some interesting color to give us a better look at Paterno as a man. It might leave some angry at Paterno's inaction and his excuses for more or less ignoring what was going on in his own building. The fact that McQueary wasn't specific enough for him to do anything is also a little disturbing. Paterno's comment that he had never heard of "rape and a man" is just out of touch.
This story certainly doesn't endear the reader to Paterno. It doesn't make us feel better about him being the one McQueary went to, and it certainly doesn't absolve him of any wrongdoing in this matter, even it he legally fulfilled his obligation to report to his superiors.
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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham
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