For over two months Joe Paterno has kept silent about the mess surrounding Jerry Sandusky’s tenure at Penn State and the recent criminal charges. Now he’s finally spoken to the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins. You can read that full interview here. As Sally Jenkins says in the article, Joe Paterno’s lawyers were present for the interview and so were his sons, at least one of whom is a lawyer as well. As a profile piece this was incredibly well done, but that’s the flaw with the “interview” as well, we don’t actually get to see the questions and the responses. We don’t know how much editing took place.
Sally Jenkins writes beautifully, but is now the time for beautiful writing or is it the time for a Bob Costas style interview? Do we need a profile piece or do we need answers? I’ve never said this before, but halfway through the piece I thought, if only Bob Costas had been able to conduct this interview. He would have cut to the heart of the issues and left us better informed. Just as Costas did with his amazing Jerry Sandusky interview back in November.
As I read Jenkins’ piece I returned time and again to the question of how much control she actually had over the interview process. With lawyers there how often could she press Paterno on his answers? How much could she get Paterno to expound upon his comments when more detail was required. Jenkins attempts to deftly deflect this question with this sentence: “His attorney Wick Sollers of the Washington law firm King & Spalding, and a communications adviser, Dan McGinn of TMG Strategies, monitored the conversations, in part to be sure Paterno was lucid, since he has experienced fogginess from his chemo treatments, one of which he underwent the day before the first interview.”
Note the key words there, “in part to be sure Paterno was lucid.”
The way the sentence is drafted you naturally focus on the chemo treatments and Paterno’s lucidity, but that’s only part of the reason why they were there.
Paterno’s advisers were there to ensure that what was said comported with their specifications. That Paterno didn’t say anything he was supposed to say.
Now, you can argue that an “interview” with set parameters is better than no interview at all — and you may well be correct — but finessing what could and could not be answered and only releasing a couple of audio clips leaves much to be desired.
Sally Jenkins has written beautifully, but has she written informatively?
I don’t think so.
Even still, the important takeaways from the interview are as follows:
1. Joe Paterno categorically states that he didn’t know about the 1998 investigation of Jerry Sandusky.
That seems downright impropable, but it’s Paterno’s story.
“You know” Paterno said, “it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it.”
If Paterno didn’t know about it, it’s awfully convenient that Sandusky chose to retire the next year after three decades as a top assistant coach.
2. Paterno seems old and out of touch.
This is probably not that surprising, but Paterno’s insistence that he didn’t know one man could rape another man should have nothing to do with his age.
Does he have no idea what goes on in jail? Never heard anyone making a don’t drop the soap joke in all his years in a locker room? That seems pretty implausible.
In particular, Paterno claims he’d never heard of “rape and a man.”
(Of course it was rape and a boy which is even worse. Surely he knew child predators existed in the world, right?)
Surely Paterno knows that men can sleep together. He’s a student of history, fond of quoting ancient Roman wisdom. Well, the ancient Romans definitely were in to some kinky things, including male on male sex.
So if he knew men could sleep together, isn’t it pretty evident that one man could rape another man?
Paterno says no.
“You know, he (McQueary) didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno said. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man.”
3. Paterno claims he didn’t really know why Jerry Sandusky decided to retire in 1999.
Instead, Paterno suggests that Sandusky decided to retire because he’d been a state employee for 30 years.
“He came to see me and we talked a little about his career,” Paterno said. “I said, you know, Jerry, you want to be head coach, you can’t do as much as you’re doing with the other operation. I said this job takes so much detail, and for you to think you can go off and get involved in fundraising and a lot of things like that. . . . I said you can’t do both, that’s basically what I told him.”
So you work closely with a coach for three decades and then he suddenly decides to quit and you have no real idea why other than retirement benefits and the fact that he won’t get the job when you retire?
As if that wasn’t enough Sandusky’s “retirement” happens one year after an investigation into inappropriate child sexual contact?
I’m sorry, that just seems way too coincidental.
Especially because Paterno also says he can’t recall the last time he talked to Sandusky. In a town this small, when we know that Sandusky continued to use Penn State gyms and facilities, isn’t that almost impossible to believe?
Put another way, if you worked alongside somebody for 30 years in a small town and then never talked to him again, would you do that without a reason to do so?
Something still isn’t adding up here.
4. Sue Paterno says she would have killed Jerry Sandusky if he’d touched their children.
“If someone touched my child, there wouldn’t be a trial, I would have killed them,” she said. “That would be my attitude, because you have destroyed someone for life.”
I don’t doubt this at all.
Ultimately Jenkins wrote delicately about a man who most respect.
That may be well and proper, but it wasn’t particularly informative.