One of the continuing themes of the response to the Penn State scandal was that Joe Paterno was, in some way, somewhere between complicit to Jerry Sandusky's acts and outright involved in covering them up.
As mentioned on Wednesday, though, Joe Posnanski was actually there with Paterno, under the auspices of writing a book about him (the decision was made long, long before any hint of a scandal at Penn State). And the Paterno that Posnanski saw over that time isn't exactly what his media persona resembled—before and after the scandal hit.
Instead, he just comes off as someone who wasn't involving himself with Jerry Sandusky any more than he absolutely had to.
Here are more excerpts from Posnanski's book, titled simply Paterno, as provided by PennLive.com:
"Did you consider calling the police?" Posnanski asked.
"To be honest with you, I didn't," Paterno responded. "This isn't my field. I didn't know what to do. I had not seen anything. Jerry didn't work for my anymore. I didn't have anything to do with him. I tried to look through the Penn State guidelines to see what I was supposed to do. It said that I was supposed to call Tim [Curley]. So I did."
There is reason to believe that, whatever Paterno was told, it did not make much of an impact on him. The coaches' meeting that leads this section was held on May 26, 1998 -- precisely at the time Sandusky was being investigated -- and his detailed and pointed notes make no mention of the investigation. Also, by the late 1990s, he had explored numerous options for removing Sandusky from his coaching staff. … If Paterno did know the details of the 1998 investigation, he might have used it as a way to get rid of Sandusky. He did not.
[Paterno] told Sandusky he would not be the next head coach at Penn State. Sandusky mentioned the early retirement package, and Paterno suggested it might be a good time for him to take it. Both men later said that the 1998 incident was never discussed.
When I told Paterno that people would find it hard to believe the could not have influenced Sandusky's retirement package, he said, "People like to give me too much power. That's Tim's department. I told Tim how I felt. He worked out the deal as he saw fit."
There was also this exchange with family adviser Guida D'Elia, as reported by StateCollege.com:
“You realize that the people out there think you knew about this? They think you had to know because you know about everything.”
“That’s their opinion!” Paterno shouted. “I’m not omniscient!”
“They think you are!” D’Elia roared back.
It's all inherently believable, though the question of how much Paterno knew about the 1998 investigation is certainly not resolved, given that emails suggest Paterno was at the very least aware of the 1998 allegations and may or may not have been involved in deciding what action to take against Sandusky.
And there's likely a lot of truth to the fact that Paterno's purported omniscience was something that was grossly overstated over the years at Penn State, especially later in his career as he stuck around longer than coaches almost ever do.
But the thing of it is that until the Sandusky scandal blew up, Paterno and Penn State actively cultivated and depended on that aura of great authority around Paterno.
And for as much talk as there is from Paterno about him being just a man (which was certainly true), when it came down to the decision about Paterno's future with the program, there he was trying to tell the Board of Trustees how to handle him and what they should or shouldn't do.
And for as reluctant Paterno was to have that statue of him at Beaver Stadium over the previous 10 years—Posnanski compared it to a mausoleum and said that Paterno disliked the "We're No. 1" finger—the statue stayed up for as long as Paterno was there.
This isn't to tarnish Paterno's name any further, though—it's just that there's a lot of complexity to who he was, what he believed, and what guided his decisions. It wasn't all pure, and it certainly wasn't all evil either. That's likely to come through in Posnanski's book, and it's something that's almost certainly worth reading.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!