Joe Paterno's Self-Portrait: "An Old-World Man Profoundly Confused"

Paul WardContributor IIIApril 1, 2012

Photo taken at the memorial service for Joe Paterno
Photo taken at the memorial service for Joe PaternoPatrick Smith/Getty Images

In the news of the week in review from the Sandusky scandal in Happy Valley, the judge has put the trial off until early June, and the jury may be sequestered. Prosecutors have listed 33 statements made by Penn State administrators, Curley and Schultz, to support perjury charges during testimony to the grand jury. Sandusky has tried to get the charges against him dismissed, partly on grounds that the statute of limitations has expired; and the prosecution has now filed a response. 

And then there was that other story a week ago about the report from a State College clinical psychologist named Alycia Chambers. She’s the one who received a call on her emergency voice mail in the first week of May 1998 from a mother whose son had been befriended by Sandusky. The mother’s message to the doctor was, “I need you to tell me I’m crazy.”

Dr. Chambers’s report, which said Sandusky fit the pattern of a pedophile, was filed on May 7, 1998 with the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Penn State University police.  If you haven’t read the report, you’ll get the gist of it from this excerpt. This is a description of an evening in which Sandusky took a boy to go weightlifting. The boy’s mother suspected something was not right when the boy got home that night, quizzed him and then the next day told the story to Dr. Chambers who wrote it up and sent it on to the Penn State police.

“(The boy) reported that he was taken to what seemed like an empty building, near the ice skating ring, and they lifted weights and did wrestling. Afterward Jerry told the boy they would shower. ‘He said, all the guys do.’ In the shower, (the boy reported to his mother) that Jerry played a game, coming up behind him, saying he would “squeeze his guts out’ and hugging (the boy) from behind. (The boy) wanted his mother not to say anything because Mr. Sandusky had promised to take him to the movies and to let him sit on the bench with him at Penn State football games. (The boy) told his mother that he asked Mr. Sandusky if she could come with him to football events, because she likes football, and he said, “no, just you.”

Of course, this description sounds similar to what Coach McQueary would tell Joe Paterno four years later, in 2002, about another incident in a shower.

I bring this up because there is still now a conviction in Happy Valley, albeit perhaps among a dwindling number of people, that the Sandusky case has been transformed into a concerted effort to destroy the memory of Joe Paterno, that this is all the work of a jaded, yellow press, trying to associate Paterno with crimes that were themselves unknown to police and the local community, and that Paterno, himself, did what was required, and on the basis of all that he could possibly have known in 2002.   

Here’s an excerpt from an email I received following an earlier post about the scandal. It reflects the point of view of those who believe Joe Paterno did everything he could to stop his former friend, and assistant, Jerry Sandusky.

“Joe was not told a rape had occurred (in 2002) and in fact McQueary didn't see a rape. Haven't you seen the aftermath of guys falsely accused of rape? It is something that follows them the rest of their lives. Joe didn't know the rest of the Sandusky story then like you do. All he knew was that McQueary was uncomfortable with what he saw and he reported that…. (Joe) clearly didn't perceive that the boy was a victim. The bottom line is that if Joe had wanted this to go away, you would never have known about it and we wouldn't be talking about it now. He would have told McQueary to go home and shut up, and McQueary would have done just that. Joe didn't do that. He reported it knowing that it would initiate an investigation. If he knew then what you know now, I am sure he would have called the police but he didn't know. I don't have to slander him to respect his legacy.” 

Now there’s no proof that Paterno was ever told by university police in 1998 that a psychologist had contacted them with a story about his assistant coach. There’s no proof he wasn’t told, though it’s not clear to me whether Paterno was ever asked specifically about rumors he might have heard before 2002.  

Still, one wonders whether there was ever even an informal investigation by university police in 2008. Did no one come to Paterno, no administrator of policeman and say, ‘you know, Coach, we got this report and we don’t know what to make of it, but we just thought we’d run it past you.”


Joe Paterno was from Brooklyn, went to Brown University where he played Q and CB.  And then at some point, in around 1950, he went to Happy Valley and, in the spirit of James Hilton’s Shangri-la, he never came back to civilization. And so one can begin to understand that in his last interview, in The Washington Post, this once urbane man, and a Catholic—who must have heard of those sex-abuse scandals—saw himself as an “old-world man profoundly confused” by what McQueary had told him.

It's hard to believe, that's the problem.  It's just hard to believe that a coach who knew all about his players and his coaches, and must have known something of the local community, could not have been aware of this scandal under his nose. 

Another email I received said this, again from someone who believes that Paterno has been unfairly discredited.

“And it may give you some comfort to believe that I am part of a handful that think as I do but you are wrong there too. We Are because He Was. Ask anyone in State College what that means and you will begin to understand why we think as we do.”