The Joe Paterno who appears at once in Sally Jenkins' lengthy profile for The Washington Post is an object of pity. Struggling to cope with chemotherapy for the lung cancer that is ravaging his body, bound to a wheelchair or bed by a broken pelvis, and fighting off the fogginess that comes with the strong medicines he's taking now for his ailments.
But Paterno is not the victim in Jenkins' story. And readers will likely leave it still struggling for a better explanation of why he and his colleagues at Penn State didn't act more quickly to stop Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach who seemed to have made very little attempt to hide his alleged abuse of young boys, including at the university itself.
After some buildup, this is what it sounds like as Paterno tries to explain his actions, which included calling a superior to report an abuse claim, but no follow-up in keeping with the huge damage Sandusky allegedly committed.
Paterno’s portrait of himself is of an old-world man profoundly confused by what McQueary told him, and who was hesitant to make follow-up calls because he did not want to be seen as trying to exert any influence for or against Sandusky. “I didn’t know which way to go,” he said. “And rather than get in there and make a mistake . . .”
He reiterated that McQueary was unclear with him about the nature of what he saw — and added that even if McQueary had been more graphic, he’s not sure he would have comprehended it.
“You know, he 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.”
He adds, of course, that in hindsight, "I wish I had done more." For so many who once revered him, those words, like his and his wife's post-hoc declarations that they'd attack someone who ever preyed on their kids, will seem too little, too late, and too hollow.