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Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of my Father
By Jay Paterno
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Jay Paterno
All rights reserved.
The Elephant in the Room
Many of you landed on this page because you are a Penn Stater, a college football fan, or a sports fan wanting to know more about Joe Paterno's life.
I also know some are here because you're interested in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and its accompanying fallout. You want to know what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it. That is the elephant in the room. I get that.
My father's life was big, complex, and principled, and he himself would tell you he was not perfect. But what the Freeh Report asserted is far from the truth.
Child sexual abuse is the witch trial topic of our time. I fully grasp the powerful emotions wrought by this issue. Calm discussion is difficult. It is outside our comfort zone, creating a lack of awareness that provides cover for perpetrators to operate in plain sight.
However, we must remember what Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. Fred Berlin stated in his report: "In our legitimate effort to protect innocent children, the fair treatment of adults should not become a collateral casualty."
After the Freeh Report, I understand why people are angry at the university and my father. But as FBI director, Freeh took Richard Jewell from hero to suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing. After the facts were uncovered, Jewell was indeed the good guy, but the damage was done.
Our world demands immediate reaction and analysis. Initial reporting is often inaccurate and lacks perspective. For my father and Penn State, almost three years later the truth is getting clearer. An in-depth investigation by former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh, former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, and Dr. Berlin presented a record supported by facts and evidence.
Both Thornburgh and Clemente worked with Louis Freeh. Yet both studied the report he issued and found it deeply flawed. Both addressed Joe Paterno's role related to crimes committed by another.
My father did not commit a crime or even witness a crime.
I grew up a son to Joe Paterno and worked alongside him for 17 years. I know all too well that he was human, an imperfect being. But he always tried to do what he believed was the right thing. When he erred, he erred with the right intentions.
This book is not an attempt to include my father as a victim in the horrible Sandusky story. When my father was fired, he reiterated to me that being fired paled in comparison to what had happened to others.
Beyond the victims, others lost their jobs and reputations. Recognizing that does not detract from our concern for the direct survivors of a predator. It simply realizes this truth; the bomb that went off threw shrapnel all over the place.
But the immediate media focus was not on the crimes committed or even the victims. On November 12, 2011 on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," host Seth Meyers had a bit with actor Jason Sudeikis dressed up as the devil. The devil yells "JoePa, a cover-up? This is college football, not the Catholic church." In the entire skit, they referenced the Penn State scandal and Joe Paterno — but the man actually charged with the crimes not a single time. In an email to their subscribers in November of 2011, The New York Times recapped how they had covered the story. It concluded the email by saying this: "More than boys had been violated it seemed. A proud university's sense of superiority and privilege and arrogance had been blown up, too."
Using the specter of boys being violated was inappropriate. But in the headline and body of editor Joe Sexton's story, the name Penn State appeared six times, Paterno four times, and the man charged at the time, Jerry Sandusky, zero times.
Although Sandusky had not worked at Penn State in almost 12 years, the focus became the university. That the vast majority of the charges occurred at locations unconnected to Penn State did not matter.
The focus also fell on Joe Paterno, who did not witness a crime but when told of what might have been one, a day after it happened, reported it exactly as directed by university policy set by state law.
Joe Paterno has been pronounced by the media as "the most powerful man in the state," the foundation of an argument alleging he could and should have done more. His own words: "In hindsight I wish I had done more" have been used against him over and over again as a sign of guilt.
It never was an admission of guilt. It was a painful statement that if he had only known more, then he could have done more. Clemente's powerful report makes the point that Joe Paterno was but one of many, some infinitely more highly educated on this issue, who missed this.
One powerful element to come out of our family report was one that surprised me. If you had asked me three years ago what a pedophile looked like, I would have described a loner in a trench coat, cruising parks and elementary school parking lots in a white van.
We were totally unfamiliar with the nice guy offender. Most never suspect a predator could be a married, non-drinking churchgoer who'd spent his life building a charity to help young people. Yet as the experts in our report point out, these people set themselves up in ways that put them around children.
Why did we miss it? It is a societal problem, a lack of discussion and education on this issue. We have that image of the loner in the white van. We prefer not to talk about it or look in the shadows of ignorance where these criminals hide within plain sight.
Before you condemn Joe Paterno, I ask you to consider if you too would have seen into the darkness of another's heart when all signs pointed you to look the other way.
Before you condemn people at Penn State or in our community, consider this: in adopting Matt Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky went to court to fight for him. I recall him talking to us in the office about the setbacks and ultimate triumph in court.
In the end the presiding judge and the state of Pennsylvania ordered that Jerry be allowed to adopt Matt over the wishes of Matt's biological mother. They viewed Jerry and his home as the better place for Matt.
The State experts viewed him as a good person with a safe home, but we were to suspect something different? What would you have thought?
Given how little I knew about pedophilia at age 44 and given that my father in his 70s and 80s knew even less, I wonder how anyone could expect him to have known more than others who work every day in that field. By his own admission, he did not know how to handle such an accusation, so he took it to the required people. But for many that was not good enough because of some perceived power he held.
But how powerful was he? Did he have a police force? Did he have subpoena power? Could he bring charges? Was he capable of investigating what he'd been told a day after it happened?
The answers to all these is no.
On gameday facing a fourth down and 1 yard to go, he had all the power to make that decision. He decided who played and who did not play. Many people valued his opinion in politics, in business, and in society.
But when it came to criminal laws, he was like everyone else — a citizen equal under the eyes of the laws and governed by the rule of law. That's it.
These are the facts. Joe Paterno was made aware that Jerry Sandusky was in the shower with a young boy a day after a witness saw it. What that witness told him is subject to interpretation, but we do know that the witness never told him that he had seen a boy being raped. It was the first and only time Joe Paterno had ever been told by a witness that Jerry had been in the showers with a young boy.
I must reiterate that the witness never told Paterno he witnessed a rape and never told police that he had seen one. The grand jury presentment inaccurately stated that the witness stated he had seen an anal rape and had told Joe Paterno "what he saw." The perception that Joe Paterno had been told about an anal rape and did nothing took hold and cost him his job.
In early 2013 University of Arkansas law professor Brian Gallini made that point the centerpiece of a 64-page paper published in the Tennessee Law Review. On page seven of his paper, he wrote: "Paterno's downfall illustrates the importance of grand jury secrecy — both during and after its investigation. That secrecy, present in all federal grand jury proceedings, prevents collateral damage — like job loss — to unindicted criminally innocent third parties. The absence of that secrecy in Pennsylvania's investigative grand jury proceedings took Paterno's job, tarnished his legacy, and perhaps even shortened his life."
The presentment, combined with the state police commissioner's statement that Paterno had failed his moral obligation, doomed Paterno's career. The commissioner made that statement despite the attorney general's having stated that Joe had been wholly cooperative, followed the law, and was not a subject of the investigation.
I would counter that Joe Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation and his moral obligation. In this country we have due process and the rule of law to protect the accuser and the accused. Joe Paterno did not witness anything, and as such his moral obligation was to allow the proper authorities do their investigation. You cannot simply run out in public and declare a man is a child predator based on a story someone told you.
But the police commissioner's irresponsible characterization was allowed to stand unchallenged. The counter-narrative took hold. Even after the trial was over, Jerry Sandusky was never convicted of any rape on Penn State's campus.
The 2001 incident was one of two incidents at Penn State's campus that were brought to anyone's attention. A 1998 incident was investigated by the police, given to the county district attorney, and investigated by the state. The determination made was that no crime had been committed, and charges were never filed. The NCAA in handing down Penn State's sanctions stated that Penn State had failed to respond appropriately. The NCAA ignored the facts.
In his report Freeh alleged that Joe Paterno was not only made aware of the 1998 incident, but also "followed the investigation closely." He based this premise on an email from athletic director Tim Curley to university vice president Gary Schultz with the subject line "Joe Paterno" and the sentence "I have touched base with the coach." Not a word what he touched base about, nor the coach's identity.
What Freeh failed to consider are other 1998 factors. Jerry Sandusky was negotiating a retirement package. He was also talking with the university about starting a lower-division football program at Penn State's Altoona campus. There was also an investigation into a 1997 All-American running back's acceptance of improper benefits from a sports agent before the bowl game.
But Freeh's report made two assumptions about one sentence while ignoring the context, of which he was ignorant.
Several people testified under oath that Joe Paterno was never told of the 1998 incident. In the lengthy 1998 police report on the Sandusky incident, Joe Paterno's name was never mentioned. And Joe Paterno stated he had no recollection of being told. State law also required strict confidentiality in child sexual abuse investigations, so it would have been illegal for Joe Paterno to have been told.
All of this information was available to Freeh, but he chose to shape his interpretation to fit his unproven narrative in the face of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.
In 2001 Sandusky no longer worked for Joe Paterno, and access to the facility had been granted to Sandusky by the administration and signed off by provost Rod Erickson (who would ascend to the presidency in the first days of the scandal). Paterno, not sure what he could do in this situation, reported it to his superiors as required by law and by university policy. ESPN writer and holder of multiple Pulitzer Prizes Don Van Natta said after reading all the reports: "Even if you believe he should have done more, it is a big leap to a cover-up, one unsupported by any evidence."
In a September 2013 interview with the CBS show 60 Minutes Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina was asked if he believed Joe Paterno had been involved in the alleged cover-up. "I do not," he said. "And I'm viewing this strictly on the evidence, not any kind of fealty to anybody. I did not find that evidence."
Critics contend that Joe Paterno should have called the police immediately. They forget he would have been calling the police with secondhand information. Joe Paterno did not even know for certain if the story was true. The witness did not perceive something that he thought needed immediate police attention, so how was Joe Paterno to interpret that? If Joe Paterno had made that call, any officer would've asked to talk to the actual witness.
As for those who say he should have closely tracked the investigation, he was not allowed to call police and follow up. He had reported it to his superiors, and they met with the witness. As far as Joe knew, the matter was resolved, and no wrongdoing was found. A decade later it resurfaced when he was made aware that Jerry was the subject of a grand jury investigation.
A few months after Joe Paterno's grand jury testimony in January 2011, the state police came to the Lasch Football Building to question all of the coaches. At that point Joe Paterno had already been to a grand jury session, requiring him to testify for a total of roughly seven minutes. Just before we were to be questioned individually, Joe had us all in a staff meeting. The story had already broken in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News, so we were all aware Jerry was being investigated. Joe looked at us and told us that the state police were here to question us.
"You guys all know Cynthia Baldwin," he said. She was a former Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice before becoming Penn State's legal counsel. She would be in the interviews with all of us. "She is going to come in to talk to you. All I'll tell you is this: when you talk to the police, just tell them the truth. If you know anything, tell them. If you don't, you don't, but just be honest."
The honest truth in this is: no matter how much society wants to spread that blame to others, using perceptions fostered by false narratives in the media, the culprit is the one responsible. This problem involved one man with young people in his children's charity The Second Mile. Almost all the crimes he committed were in no way connected to Penn State or the football program.
Clemente stated on ESPN's Outside the Lines on February 10, 2013: "One man was responsible for this — Jerry Sandusky. This was not a football culture problem. This was not a Penn State problem."
There is a perception that Sandusky continued even after the 2001 incident to bring kids to Penn State practices, travel with the team to away games and bowl games, and even bring them to the sidelines for home games. There is a perception he kept showing up and showering with boys in our building. That is one reason why some people believe we knew and looked the other way.
None of that is true. After he retired Sandusky was no longer part of our program, and we did not see him except when he came in to work out alone early in the morning.
When I went to ESPN in February 2013 to discuss the results of our report, I found persistent misinformation. After I explained the 1998 situation to Mike Golic and finished our interview, he stated Joe Paterno had to have known when Sandusky was arrested. Sandusky was not arrested in 1998.
Later that morning, Colin Cowherd stated that Joe Paterno should have known that Sandusky had been to a grand jury in 1998. There was no grand jury at that time. Cowherd also asserted that Paterno should have fired Sandusky in 2001. That would have required Joe Paterno to have rehired him, so that he could fire him. All those months later, the false narratives persisted.
But the university administration finds it convenient to let the false perceptions remain because they help justify actions they took against Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program.
The day the Freeh Report came out, I was the only person who went on television to defend Penn State, the truth, and Joe Paterno. The only one. The first satellite truck showed up at my house at 5:00 AM for the TODAY Show and the last one left at 8:15 PM after I was on CNN for Erin Burnett OutFront. During that long day, I did interviews with NBC, ESPN, ABC, CBS, CNN, and numerous state media outlets. At the same time while I was defending our school, the Penn State administration did nothing to defend our university. So how could people not come to believe a narrative the administration allowed to persist?
Excerpted from Paterno Legacy by Jay Paterno. Copyright © 2014 Jay Paterno. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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