Joe Paterno’s legacy


I think this is the third time I’ve written about the Paterno / Sandusky scandal.



This will be the last time, I promise.



But I can’t help myself.



So: Jerry Sandusky was found guilty. Then the Freeh report (which, by all accounts, was thorough and fair) found that Sandusky’s crimes were not only known to the University administration – and to Joe Paterno – but that those crimes were systematically covered up by the administration. Most damningly, this was largely at the behest of Joe Paterno himself, who wanted nothing to get in the way of his winning legacy. At one point, the administrators were about to go to the local authorities; then one of them met with Paterno, and some days later informed his colleagues that “we’re going to go another way with this.”



It’s largely on the basis of the Freeh report that institutions all over America, including Penn State itself, have quietly removed Paterno’s name from scholarships and such. Penn State took down Paterno’s statue on Sunday morning.



So it looks as if everyone’s trying to move on.



Except (sadly) for Paterno’s family.



Listen, I understand family solidarity; I admire it. It doesn’t shock or horrify me when a convicted murderer’s mother insists on his innocence. We don’t want to believe the worst of our loved ones.



But the Paterno family’s recent statements are way beyond the pale.



See if you can find the howlers in the following paragraph:



Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being.  How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.



Here’s my list:



        They talk about Joe Paterno in the present tense, even though he passed away some months ago. Just a slip? Or are they implying that Joe lives on as a kind of angelic presence?

        According to the Freeh report, Paterno did indeed minimize the crime of child abuse. He certainly considered it of less importance than his football record.

        Sandusky’s crimes might shock a decent human being – they shock me, and I am far from being a decent human being – but Freeh established that Paterno had a pretty good idea of what Sandusky was doing, and evidently it didn’t shock Paterno enough to remove Sandusky from proximity to the kids he was abusing.

        How did Sandusky get away with his crimes? Well, sugar, he had help. To be sure, Sandusky was dropping clues like bread crumbs all over the place – most horribly, that book of his called “Touched.” But for some reason, every time a little piece of information made its way to the Penn State administration or to the police, something (or someone) brought the action to a screeching halt.



The family’s statements go on. It’s not fair to punish the college, and the students, for what Jerry Sandusky did. How does this benefit the victims? Or the students?



And so, drearily, on.



I don’t like to get too psychological, but I can just imagine what it was like to grow up with Joe Paterno as a father. One assumes that life was all about winning and losing. Sadly, the family is applying that attitude to the current situation.  They do not seem to realize that the game has already been lost. It was lost in 1998, back when their father first discovered that Sandusky was abusing children.



The family needs to retreat, and express sympathy and condolences to Sandusky’s victims, and make a generic statement like “We respect our father’s memory,” and leave the rest to silence.



Silence, in this case, as far as the Paterno family is concerned, would be best.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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