So It Goes. The big news of the weekend was the Joe Paterno interview by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. Breathlessly hyped as a blockbuster, it was anything but. If you were the last remaining person on this blue earth that hadn't made up your mind on Joe Paterno's role in how Penn State collectively handled Jerry Sandusky's alleged 2002 rape of a child in the PSU locker room, Jenkins' interview likely did nothing to sway you in either direction.
The interview was carefully monitored by attorney Wick Sollers (who does some criminal work, but mostly handles high-profile civil litigation) and PR/communications expert Dan McGinn of TMG Strategies, which should probably consider re-upping that GoDaddy.com account. The likelihood of juicy new information coming out of the Jenkins interview was minimal from the very start, and the entire interview must be viewed through the lens of legal self-preservation and the rehabilitation of JoePa's reputation.
Paterno stated that he didn't feel "adequate" to deal with the alleged acts related to him by Mike McQueary, and Jenkins used the oft-repeated Paterno quote, "in hindsight, I wish I had done more." What we never find out from the interview is exactly what Paterno wishes he had done, or why he thought an athletic director and a financial bureaucrat were more well-trained to handle the situation.
Some Paterno supporters continue to believe that he did enough -- whether that is characterized as "bare legal minimum" or "put McQueary in touch with the nominal head of campus police and got out of the way" is up to the individual. Paterno thinks he should have done more, but what does that mean? In the continuing public trial of Joe Paterno's reputation and legacy, that's a rather crucial bit. Jenkins either never asked the questions, or Sollers and McGinn never allowed the answers.
Regardless of your opinion on the various players in this tragic story, it's safe to say that one of the uniting themes throughout has been a desire for Paterno to get his side of the story on the record. Even those who believed that Paterno needed to be removed as head coach still wanted him to publicly and forcefully respond to the allegations that he looked the other way while Sandusky continued his abuses. The Sally Jenkins interview was a heavily filtered attempt to rehabilitate Paterno's public reputation -- perhaps an effective tactic aimed at the casual observer, but of little use to those of us who have followed every detail of the scandal.
Rape And A Man. I'm trying to view this quote in a light most favorable to Paterno:
"You know, [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. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it."
Many in the media are interpreting this as Paterno claiming to be unfamiliar with the entire concept of a male raping another male. If that's what JoePa meant, it's wholly ridiculous. Others are using this quote as support to the notion that McQueary didn't specifically relay what he allegedly saw in the showers in 2002. I hope they're right, because the alternative paints Paterno as implausibly naïve to a world of which he had such great knowledge and perspective -- and even Paterno's greatest detractors don't believe that.
As expected, media reaction to the WaPo interview was swift and voluminous:
Mike Poorman gives us an explanation as to why Sally Jenkins was selected for the job:
Daughter Jenkins, 51, wrote two books with Lance Armstrong, providing the anti-cancer-crusading, Tour de France-winning cyclist with the pen to use against the swords of legions who have alleged Lance may Livestrong but he’s a doper.
So she is well-versed in dichotomies, incongruencies and conundrums. But does she know Joe? Not so much.
"I’ve only talked to Joe Paterno twice in 25 years," she told a pair of enterprising Penn State student radio journalists, Willie Jungles and Patrick Woo, on Saturday. "This was the second time."
"I was told (it was) because I had written one of the few sensible columns about the Jerry Sandusky grand jury and all the events that then followed the tumultuous days," Jenkins told Jungels and Woo. "They had felt I had taken a more measured tone in a column that I had written and that I had thought things more rationally than some people."
Bernard Fernandez of Philadelphia Daily News expresses a sentiment shared by nearly all Paterno supporters:
My opinion is that Sandusky's arrest presented certain members of the Board of Trustees with an opportunity to finally rid themselves of Paterno, who had become too old, too entrenched and too intractable in the way he did things to fit their vision of the future. He was the last dinosaur, a relic of a fading era who had to sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
Good news! Jerry Sandusky is "greatly dismayed" by Paterno's firing. Guess we can all go home now.
John Dudley of GoErie.com goes Black Hat:
Many people will continue to give Paterno the benefit of the doubt, even after these absurd statements. They will insist he did exactly what was required of him by passing on what he knew to his superiors, even if, admittedly, he waited a day to do so. They will continue to view him as a fallen icon, a frail man battling cancer and nearing the end of a long life that began so long ago that he couldn't possibly be expected to comprehend the atrocities of a sick, new world. And that will be horse manure.
Because the most telling part of Paterno's statement was that he was afraid, only you have to read between the lines to suspect what really scared him. It wasn't procedure Paterno feared he might jeopardize, it was the cash cow that is Penn State football.
Over at the Four Letter, Gene Wojciechowski still isn't buying:
Paterno didn't follow his own advice. For someone so obsessed with detail, he failed to fully recognize the impact of those 2002 Sandusky allegations. Either that, or he chose to ignore them.
Guts? He showed the bare minimum. He didn't report the allegations to police. He showed a perfunctory interest in the disposition of the in-house investigation (such as it was) involving one of his former coaches, in his football facility and on his watch.
Paterno should listen to himself. Better yet, he should ask himself this: If a player had offered Paterno the same excuses and justifications, what would he have told that player?
Did the Jenkins interview change anyone's opinion on this ordeal, or are we all hopelessly entrenched in our positions?