I actually wrote this days ago, but I wanted to sit on it for a minute and let it marinate until more facts came out. I’ve been watching the media coverage and talking to people and I’ve decided that I was right in the first place. I still think it was unfair what happened to Joe Paterno. Everyone wants to pretend they would have done the “right” thing if they were in Joe Paterno’s position, but put yourself in his shoes for just a second.
Sandusky was a man he had known for close to four decades. He’s a man with a wife, two children and six adopted children. He’s a man who has taken in foster children. He’s a man who, as far as you know, has worked tirelessly to help underprivileged children of all backgrounds and circumstances overcome adversity and improve their lives.
This isn’t just some guy. This is a man you’ve laughed with, cried with, shared the best and the worst times of your professional and personal life with. You’ve eaten at his house, you know his wife, you’ve watched his sons grow from boys to grown men. He’s the man you selected to replace you as coach after you retired. He’s a man who has stood beside you and helped guide your program for decades and helped nurture and mentor thousands of young men who were a part of your program.
You know all of this about the man and then one day an assistant coach, who has been on your staff for a few years, comes into your office and tells you that he saw this man raping a 10-year-old boy. What would your reaction be? Would it be to immediately call the police and report him? Really?
It’s more likely you’d be a little suspicious of the charges and you’d sit your friend down and talk to him. You’d ask him if what you heard was true and of course he would deny it.
Here’s how I’m guessing their conversation went:
JoePa: jerry, come on in here.
Jerry Sandusky: What’s going on Joe? I heard you wanted to talk to me. You know, I haven’t worked here in three years so I’m wondering what’s up.
JP: It’s not good Jerry. I can’t believe my ears. One of my assistants told me he saw you doing something awful the other day. I can’t even say it.
JS: Well…what’d he say, Joe?
JP: Gosh, Jer…he said he saw you…I can’t even believe this.
JS: Well, what was it, Joe. This sounds bad.
JP: It is bad. Real bad. He said he saw you…and a kid in the bathroom together.
JS: In the bathroom together how, pal?
JP: He told me you were raping the kid, Jer. Now tell me this isn’t true.
JS: Of course it isn’t true, Joe. I…I can’t even believe someone would say something like that. You know me. I played for you back in ’63. I was on your staff for 30 years. You were the one who brought me into Penn State. You promoted me. We’ve known each other for almost 50 years. We were pals you and me, Joe. You know my wife, my two boys. Why, I’ve even adopted six kids and taken in foster kids. You can’t seriously think I would do something so…so awful.
JP: I can’t. But my assistant, he was pretty shook up about it. He could barely get the words out of his mouth. He came in here shaking.
JS: Come on, Joe. That’s crazy. Crazy! I can’t even believe someone would make up this kind of thing. Do you know how serious this is?
JP: I do, Jer. I do. Look, it hurts me to do this, but I gotta report the incident to Curley. He’s the athletic director, he handles stuff like this. I believe you, Jer, I really do, but this sort of thing I just gotta report. I can’t have stuff like this around my program.
JS: I understand, Joe. I’ll go right to Curley and discuss this with him. This has to be some kind of mistake or someone just out to get me. This could ruin my reputation…imagine what it could do to my family. And I just wrote a book called, “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.”
What reason would you have to have to take the word of a GA over a man you’ve known for 40 years of your life? And it’s not as if Paterno did nothing or “turned a blind eye” as the media has become fond of saying lately. He reported the matter to the people whose job it is to handle matters such as these. Sandusky wasn’t on his staff and he wasn’t a part of Penn State football except in an emeritus status. My guess is that when no further investigation was launched, Paterno assumed nothing had been found, his friend had been vindicated, and he went on about his work.
Jerry Sandusky hasn’t even been found guilty in a court of law; he’s only been convicted and crucified in the court of public opinion. What if he isn’t guilty? (I’m not saying he isn’t guilty, by the way, he probably is. Obviously the grand jury indictment is pretty damning, but this is America isn’t it? Aren’t we all – even those among us accused of the most heinous crimes – entitled to a fair trial, not in the media but in a courtroom?)
To me this all just seems like a witch hunt. Something terrible happened to some innocent victims and now somebody has to pay and pay dearly. Rather than a need for justice, this seems to play right into our American need for vengeance and a need to see someone go down. It had to be a big name and Jerry Sandusky’s wasn’t big enough.
So an 84-year-old man lost his job. He probably didn’t have a long life ahead of him and coaching was what he loved. It was a job that he had been doing for 46 years and he wasn’t even allowed to retire on his own terms simply because someone had to pay and they had to pay right now. That’s not justice.
I think Joe Pa had five, maybe six good years ahead of him if he had stayed on as coach. I think without the routine of coaching this guy probably doesn’t have much longer to live. I understand why Penn State had to fire him, but that doesn’t make it right.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this 84-year-old coach knew about everything the whole time and was part of the elaborate cover-up that kept this hidden for years and allowed Jerry Sandusky to take advantage of numerous innocent young victims. Maybe he actually masterminded the whole thing after he caught Sandusky with the boys back in the ‘90s. Maybe Paterno even helped Sandusky set up the organization so that he would have access to all the young boys he wanted, because he wanted to make sure nothing tarnished the reputation of his football program. But that’s not what the facts say. The fats say Joe Pa heard one story from one man about another man and he reported that story to the people he was supposed to. For that, I stand by Joe Pa and so should you.