Joe Paterno Biography Defends Former Penn State Coach's (In)Actions In Sex Abuse Scandal


For the last few weeks there's been rumors that Joe Posnanski's much discussed biography of Joe Paterno, which is published Tuesday, would contain a defense of the coach's actions - or lack thereof - in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. As it turns out, Paterno - that's it, the entire title - does indeed try hard to mitigate if not actually exonerate him.

Posnanski gets defensive early when he writes in his overture, "I'm aware that opinions have calcified so that many people have grown deaf to other viewpoints; with such horrible crimes being committed and alleged, it could not be any other way. But I have tried to be guided by the words in Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Oxbow Incident: 'We desire justice.' And justice has never been obtained in haste and strong feeling."

First, I'm wondering by what Posnanski means by "alleged" crimes; certainly he could not be implying that the 45 guilty counts against Sandusky are somehow unfair, so he must be implying that a rush to judgment has somehow victimized Paterno.

Exactly what other "viewpoints" have people grown deaf to? Well, I supposed he means those of Joe's son, Scott, who conducted his own investigation and "came away convinced that the only thing Joe knew about Sandusky's alleged crimes - or remembered knowing - was the vague conversation he had with Mike McQueary."

Here are two themes that Posnanski returns to often, the first being that Paterno's memory was failing him when he finally came to discuss the matter with the grand jury in the winter of 2011. But was Paterno also supposed to be fuzzy-headed when rumors about Sandusky first surfaced in 1998 or in 2001 when McQueary came to Paterno and told him he had seen Sandusky appear to be having sex with a young boy in the Penn State showers?

Posnanski's second theme - and this is suggested several times throughout the book - is that McQueary's description of what he saw or thought he saw was so "vague" that Paterno could not have been expected to understand it.

The notion that Joe Paterno had lived such a sheltered life that he could not understand what McQueary was telling him is preposterous. And even if for some reason he couldn't understand McQueary he certainly knew that McQueary was very upset. If, as Posnanski puts it, McQueary had described what he saw "in ill-defined terms," surely he should have asked him to be more specific?

And if, as Posnanski says, Paterno "concluded it [what McQueary saw] was of a sexual nature" and it involved Sandusky and a boy and knew that McQueary was distressed over what he had seen what other conclusion could Paterno have possibly come to?

Again and again, Posnanski nudge's us towards accepting the Paterno family's version of events. For instance, in the statement they released to the press, Paterno says "I understand that people are upset and angry, but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold ... Sue [Mrs. Paterno] and I have devoted our lives to helping young people reach their potential. The fact that someone we thought we knew might have harmed young people to this extent is deeply troubling. If this is true, we were all fooled along with scores of professionals trained in such things ..."

But letting the legal process unfold is exactly what Paterno did not do when he chose to not inform the police or make sure they were informed. And this stuff about "We were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things" -- and who exactly might they be? Sounds like a backhanded way of saying "Hey, if he fooled everybody else, what do you want from me?"

Which, of course, is not even the point. Nobody asked Joe Paterno to make a judgment on Jerry Sandusky. Clearly what he should have done was turn it over to the law and let the professionals decide.

Late in the book, Posnanski lets Paterno take what amounts to his moral stand. The authors says Paterno asked him "What do you think of all this?" The reply: "I told him that I thought he should have done more when he was told Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy." Paterno nodded and said, "I wish I had done more."

It's hard to say which is the greater moral evasion: Paterno's statement or Posnanski's.

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Allen Barra,  Check your grammar in the first sentence. 


"But was Paterno also supposed to be fuzzy-headed when rumors about Sandusky first surfaced in 1998 or in 2001 ..."   

In 2001, he was 72 years old.  


"And this stuff about "We were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things" -- and who exactly might they be?"  Sandusky was able to do what he did because he deceived everyone around him.  That's what criminals do.  Show me a criminal who is not good at deceiving people and I'll show you a prisoner.  Serial child molesters are MASTER deceivers.  The fact is, Sandusky deceived the police who investigated him in 1998. He deceived the local Child Services and the state Public Welfare who allowed him to adopt 6 children and licensed him as a foster parent, and who were supposed to oversee his actions with Second Mile.  He deceived high school principles and guidance counselors who allowed him to take kids out of school without their parents' permission or knowledge.  He deceived the childrens' parents.  Hey, all of those other people are supposed to be TRAINED to protect children, its their JOBS to protect children.  And yes, surprise surprise, he deceived a college football coach who had nothing to do with him after he retired in 1999. Why do you insist upon piling all the blame upon the college football coach?  The answer is easy:  because it gives you a chance to spit on the grave of a man who achieved more in his lifetime than you could ever dream of doing in a hundred lifetimes, and he did it with more grace and integrity than you could ever be capable of.


"Nobody asked Paterno to make a judgement on Sandusky"  

BS!  That is precisely what YOU're doing, and what you've been doing all along.  And he DID report the vague information to the top administrator in charge of the University Park Police Department.  He did precisely the right thing, he did exactly what is mandated by state law and university policy.  Don't take my word for it:


Let's be clear - Paterno isn't villified as a rapist.  However, he did NOT do the right thing and we had expectations about Paterno that he was the kind of man who would.  In that regard his fall from grace is in relation to his exalted status.  The bottom line is that Paterno showed remarkable failure in spite of being someone who was trusted and in the end, Paterno ought to have been better than he was.


Other people "fooled" by Sandusky 1) 1998 police investigators 2) 1998 psychologist assigned to assess accuser and Sandusky by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 3) Senator Rick Santorum who spoke glowingly of Sandusky on the Senate floor for his work with the Second Mile 4) Cal Ripken Jr, Jack Nichlaus, and Franco Harris who all sat on the Second Mile board 5) the Commonwealth child welfare agency who did yearly background checks on Sandusky 6) the current Governor of Pennsylvania who received reports, while Attorney General, in 2007 of possible molestation and did nothing to investigate further.  Surely all these people (maybe not Ripken and Nichlaus) had more resources and more knowledge on how to deal with molestation than a 75 year old football coach.


Should Paterno have done more?  Absolutely, but of all the people getting blame it is as if he was the one who held the kids down while they were sodomized and everyone else can simply whistle past his grave, happy that they weren't the one the mob decided to take the pitchforks to.


@villagevoice Makes me sick -- hope the book is a flop and in the buck a book store immediately.


Oh god. "And this stuff about 'We were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things' -- and who exactly might they be?" REALLY? Do you REALLY not know about the investigation by multiple authorities, including the state public welfare agency, in 1998 that resulted in a finding of no criminal activities?


I mean, I know it's the Internet and all, where knowing about something is not a prerequisite for commenting on it. But, sheesh.


Must be hard to read while simultaneously holding your torch and pitchfork, Barra!

none 1 Like

Ironic that you criticize Posnanski for bringing up the fact that so many "have grown deaf to other viewpoints," then you proceed to dismantle his book because it doesn't your predetermined narrative.


 @none Predetermined, for sure.  And way, way off in terms of facts.


 @none What part of the narrative is predetermined? Do you not watch or read the news? 

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