It’s hard to imagine Joe Paterno’s legacy being any more tarnished than it was…except that it has been.
A Penn State University-commissioned report several years ago suggested the late former football coach became aware of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys in 1998.
Recent reports, however, including one today, indicate Paterno might have known about Sandusky’s sexual perversity as early as 1976.
Court documents made public today show that in a 2014 deposition, a man called John Doe 150 in the documents testified that Sandusky touched him inappropriately in the shower when he was a 14-year-0ld attending a football camp.
The next day, according to the documents, the victim told Paterno about the incident, but Paterno brushed him off, saying he didn’t want to hear about it and had to focus on football.
“I was shocked, disappointed, offended,” John Doe 150 said in the deposition.
…This is a case that, when it surfaced in 2011, made me equal parts sick and sad. Now, it’s even more appalling. Not only do I not understand why some Penn State students are still be agitating for a return of Paterno’s statue outside the university’s stadium, I don’t even understand how his family can continue trying to defend him. Besides being maddening to the press, there’s never been anything wrong with saying “No comment” and letting it go at that.
Instead, in a statement this morning, according to The New York Times, a Paterno family spokesman said:
“The materials released today relating to Joe Paterno allege a conversation that occurred decades ago where all parties except the accuser are now dead. In addition, there are numerous specific elements of the accusations that defy all logic and have never been subjected to even the most basic objective examination. Most significantly, there is extensive evidence that stands in stark contrast to this claim.”
As far as I know, the spokesman didn’t cite any of that “extensive evidence.”
Years ago, whenever I saw images of “Coach” Paterno, I suspected his rigid expression and cleats-and-khaki-pants look suggested a personality and world view that was fairly narrow. Narrow as in limited essentially to the locker room, the football field and the runway in between.
The Coke-bottle-thick spectacles didn’t help, although plenty of people with myopia have had tremendous breadth of understanding about the state of the human race and the evil instincts that reside in some people.
Paterno’s myopic perspective was fully revealed when it came to light that he and several other high-ranking Penn State officials had averted their gaze from the systematic abuse Sandusky had perpetrated for years in the Penn State locker room and elsewhere, including his own home. (Unbelievably, Sandusky’s wife also appears to have averted her gaze.)
In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of the sexual abuse of 10 young boys in cases going back to the 1990s. He is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
The one and only time Paterno went to a higher-up — the school’s athletic director — was in 2001, but he took it no further — nor for that matter, did either the athletic director or the university president. Like Paterno, they were subsequently fired.
The Penn State debacle has an indirect Kansas City connection, as some of you may know. In 2011, just before the Sandusky scandal broke, former Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski decided to write a biography of Paterno. He had garnered Paterno’s cooperation and had ready access to him.
After the scandal broke, Posnanski, stayed with the project. Although Posnanski didn’t attempt to minimize the scandal, the book turned out to be, as a New York Times reviewer put it, “breezy and largely sympathetic.”
Posnanski urged reader to put Paterno’s inaction in context, The Times review said. That is, “he was old, a bit befuddled and — a sin in football — he simply took his eyes off the ball.”
Yes, by 2011, when he was 85, he was old, befuddled and pathetic.
But what about 1976, when he was 50, full of energy and had no excuse for not being aware of everything going on around him?
No excuses work for Paterno now. None. He was a gutless man and a horrible coach, at least in the fullest sense of a college coach. A good coach not only pays attention to what’s going on between the lines, he nurtures and guides young men and tries to help keep them on the straight and narrow. And that brings us back to narrow. Paterno might as well have had blinders mounted on those thick glasses. The blinders were invisible for a long time, they were there for almost as long JoePa was the face of Penn State football.