We’ve heard from many people – some close to the Penn State football program – on the release of the Freeh report detailing Penn State’s handling of allegations against Jerry Sandusky. But earlier on ESPN, we heard for the first time from someone closer to the scandal than almost anyone – Joe Paterno’s son Jay. Freeh’s report hit Joe Paterno hard, and Jay served as an assistant to his father on Penn State’s football staff for over 15 years, including several while Sandusky was still on staff. Earlier, Paterno joined Tom Rinaldi on ESPN and gave his – and his family’s – side of the story.
From the start, Paterno defended his father’s legacy, urging “perspective” in analyzing Freeh’s report, noting that it’s “not a legal document” and saying that “it’s really an opinion.” While many might have a bone to pick with especially that last statement, given the number of actual documents included in the report… of course Paterno was defending his father’s legacy. It’s his father. Here’s what he had to say:
Just because it’s understandable Paterno would do this, of course, doesn’t mean it’s right, or that what he said can’t, and shouldn’t, be countered. Paterno contested the idea that there wa a “culture of concealment” at Penn State – but his father did conceal ever knowing anything about the alleged 1998 Sandusky incident that was investigated, despite an email from then-athletic director Tim Curley saying he “touched base with the coach” (subject line: “Joe Paterno”). Penn State higher-ups did conceal the 2001 Mike-McQueary-observed shower incident from police.
And as far as Paterno saying the Sandusky scandal is “one chapter” in his father’s life: true, but it’s the most important chapter now, in a life that it’s now much harder to say was lived with the “integrity” and “honesty” Jay Paterno said it was. “Commitment to [Penn State]”? Maybe too much commitment. And while saying the ultimate blame lies with Sandusky and directing anger at Joe Paterno won’t help heal victims may be technically true, coming from Paterno’s son, it feels like a cheap tactic – he didn’t say it out of concern for the victims; he said it out of concern for his family’s legacy.
Again, Jay Paterno was in a tough position. While of course nothing compares to what Sandusky’s victims went through, the resulting scandal – not to mention his father’s death from lung cancer – undoubtedly hasn’t been easy on him, either. But none of that whitewashes what happened, and the Freeh report paints a convincing picture that what happened was a university-wide failure in which his father played a critical role. While it’s understandable that Jay Paterno would want to defend the record of his father, that record looks a whole lot more indefensible today.
If you don’t have time for the full interview, below is the segment in which Jay Paterno offers his opinion on the view, now held by many, that the statue of Joe Paterno outside Penn State’s Beaver Stadium should be taken down.