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Joe Paterno Interview: 'I Didn't Know Exactly How To Handle It'

In his first interview since the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for child sexual abuse shocked the nation, former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno comes across as bewildered and unsure. He describes himself as a man who did his best but had neither the information nor the disposition to do the right thing and make sure Sandusky stayed away from his program and was reported to the police.

Former graduate assistant Mike McQueary allegedly saw Sandusky raping a child in a Penn State locker room in 2002, and reported the incident to Paterno, who informed his superiors at PSU but did not report the incident to the police and continued to allow Sandusky to have at least some access to Penn State football facilities. Exactly how much detail McQueary revealed to Paterno isn’t entirely clear, however, and Paterno now portrays himself as confused about what to do.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

Paterno says McQueary told him the incident “looked like inappropriate, or fondling.” (McQueary himself has said that he did not want to go into “great detail” about the incident with Paterno, and that he revealed more to Paterno’s superiors, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.) Paterno says he didn’t want to “make a mistake” with the little information he had.

Paterno also says he did not know about a 1998 accusation by a parent who said that Sandusky molested her child.

Both Paterno and his wife have strong words for child abusers.

The Paternos say they think about the real potential victims every time they look at their own children. “I got three boys and two girls,” Paterno said. “It’s sickening.” His knee-jerk response is to go back to Flatbush. “Violence is not the way to handle it,” he said. “But for me, I’d get a bunch of guys and say let’s go punch somebody in the nose.”

It seems morally repugnant to truly have sympathy for Paterno. Whether or not he knew precisely that Sandusky allegedly used Penn State’s football program to rape a child, he had some idea that something happened, and yet the November grand jury presentment states that five years later, Sandusky was still allowed to bring a child to Penn State football practices. If that’s true, then he was oblivious to the point of negligence, at best. But one wonders if things might have been different if McQueary had felt comfortable going into more detail with Paterno.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.