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Tag: sally jenkins

The Virtual Reality of Joe Paterno

Saturday, January 14, 2012, marked the publication of Joe Paterno’s first comments on the record since the Jerry Sandusky scandal exploded and led to the end of his career as he, and everyone else, knew it. Sally Jenkins’ piece reads like a prologue to an obituary, with the necessary exposition to put the past two months into some sort of context.

Removing the descriptive language, though, reveals the quotes from both Paterno and his wife, Sue that shape Jenkins’ story. I pulled a few that I found particularly jarring:

1) “You know, it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it.”
— Paterno, on his insistence that he was unaware of a 1998 police investigation into the report on the boy who has come to be known as “Victim 6”.

Analysis: The same thing was said about Tiger Woods’ inner circle when questions of “how much did they know and when did they know it” came about regarding his serial philandering. Jo Becker’s report in the New York Times from November 10 of last year provides insight into this notion. Becker spoke to several investigators who doubted Paterno’s assertion of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, know-no-evil.

An excerpt from Becker’s article:

“You have to understand those statements in context — there is nothing that happens at State College that Joe Paterno doesn’t know, or that Graham Spanier doesn’t know,” one person involved in the investigation said. “Whether or not a criminal case went forward, there were ample grounds for an administrative inquiry into this matter. I have no evidence that was ever done. And if indeed that report was never passed up, it makes you wonder why not.”

Joe Paterno was the most notable and powerful man at Penn State. According to the anonymous investigator, he was the most powerful man in State College. In 13 years since that investigation took place, Paterno’s assertion leaves us to interpret his involvement in one of two ways: either a) he knew what happened and was responsible for organizing a broad cover-up, or b) like Pete Rose has done every day since he was banned from baseball in 1989, Paterno crafted an alternate version of the events that he believes so passionately, it has become truth. This second supposition aligns with one definition of truth listed as “conformity with fact or reality.”

2a) “He didn’t want to get specific. 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.”
— Paterno, describing Mike McQueary’s call to him after witnessing Sandusky having sex with a boy in the showers of the Penn State Football facility in 2002.

2b) “I had no clue. I thought doctors looked for child abuse in a hospital, in a bruise or something.”
— Sue Paterno, when asked if she knew anything about Sandusky’s alleged child molestation.

Analysis for 2a: Paterno’s recollection that McQueary didn’t want to be specific in his description of the actions is consistent with the original report of McQueary’s statement. Numerous reports since November, and the grand jury report, confirm that Paterno did, in fact, run it up the chain. But another quote from Paterno is particularly revealing:

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. 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.”

Again, we come back to Paterno’s power. He could have easily told the administration and the Board of Trustees about the McQueary call and the accusations and said, “Do what you have to do.” He also could have cleaned house. Expertise and knowledge of male rape had nothing to do with it. Neither did procedure. Many of Paterno’s players have called him a father figure and have said he taught them how to be leaders. Do true leaders back away from a challenge or shrink in the face of adversity? That’s what Paterno did. He did not practice what he’s preached.

Analysis for 2b: Sue Paterno added that we will become a more aware society as a result of this. That’s a nice thought, except millions of people both inside and outside Happy Valley have been aware of child abuse for years. When similar salacious charges ravaged the Catholic Church several years ago — this was international news — awareness heightened to the nth degree. Sue Paterno’s statement does not reflect well on the cultural awareness and intellectual faculties of either her or her husband, despite their ability to recant the Classics or demonstrate their love of opera, as Jenkins noted.

3) “Right now I’m trying to figure out what I’m gonna do, ’cause I don’t want to sit around on my backside all day. If I’m gonna do that I’ll be a newspaper reporter.”
— Paterno on his current state of affairs.

Analysis: Before saying, “If I’m gonna do that I’ll be a newspaper reporter,” Jenkins observed that Paterno grinned and smiled; an obvious attempt to try to rankle the veteran reporter. Paterno should know, though, that the enterprising work of reporters not sitting on their backsides and exposing his role in this mess are part of the reason he is out as Penn State’s head football coach and is no longer a tenured professor there. One reporter in particular, Sara Ganim, could very well win a Pulitzer for her work on this story. Paterno demonstrated in both nonverbal and verbal terms why he kept Happy Valley in such a hyper-controlled bubble. He hated reporters.

None of Paterno’s comments should come as a shock. There is no new information. From this interview, it’s clear Paterno believes that we are naive enough to think his story is the truth. Should we believe he was naive enough to have never heard of male rape or child molestation? Paterno may believe we as the public, are that stupid. What if, based on everything that has come out since November, we believed the same of him?

Texas Two-Step Part One: Permanent Press

Got a treat for you from the good people at Harper’s Magazine. They’ve taken Edwin “Bud” Shrake’s classic piece “In the Land of the Permanent Wave” out from behind the pay wall and made it available for all. If you’ve never read it before, do yourself a favor and check it out:

For about five hours I had been drinking Scotch whiskey and arguing with a rather nice, sometimes funny old fellow named Arch, who was so offended by my moderately long hair that he had demanded to know if I weren’t actually, secretly, a Communist. “Come on now, you can tell me, hell, I won’t hate you for it. Wouldn’t you really like to see the Communists take over this country?” Arch had said, placing his bare elbows on the table and leaning forward to look trustingly at me, as though he was certain that if I had one virtue it would prove to be that I would not lie to him about such an important matter. Arch was wearing a jump suit; swatches of gray chest hair, the color of his crew cut, stuck out where the zipper had got caught in it when last Arch had excused himself from the table. We were in the guest lodge of a lumber company in a small town in East Texas. Arch is an old friend of the president of the company. Sitting around the table or nearby were my wife, a State Senator in town to crown a beauty queen at a “celebration” the next evening, a U. S. Congressman who had come down from Washington to make a speech between the parade and the barbecue the following noon, a lumber lobbyist who is mayor of still another town owned by this same lumber company, and I think one or two more people but my memory of that evening has a few holes in it.

Willie Morris ran Harper’s during the magazine’s heyday in the Sixties. He said that Shrake’s story, along with Seymour Hersh’s devastating account of the My Lai Massacre, were his two favorites.

In his memoir, New York Days, Morris recalled Shrake as:

…a large, tall Texan with a blunt exterior that disguised a lyric but misdoing heart. This piece was infiintely less ambitious than “My Lai,” but struck a chord in me that I have never quite forgotten, having to do with how clean, funny, and lambent prose caught the mood of that moment in the country and mirrored with great felicity what we were trying to do at Harper’s. To me few finer magazine essays have ever been written.

The genesis of “The Land of the Permanent Wave” was itself a germane story of the magazine business of that era. Sports Illustrated sent Shrake down at his insistence to do a piece on the beautiful and haunting Big Thicket area of East Texas. This was about the time a Texas lumbering company was becoming a major stockholder in Time Inc. Shrake’s story on timber choppers and developers ruining the Thicket was not happily greeted at SI. Andre Laguerre, the managing editor later to be dismissed by the money men, broke the news to the writer at their daily late afternoon gathering in the bar around the corner from the Time-Life Building where many of their editorial decisions took place. It was the only SI story Shrake ever wrote that the magazine would not print and Laguerre embarrassed. Shrake got his permission to rewrite it and give it to Harper’s. He sat down and changed the main angle of the story from the mercenary destruction of the Thicket to his and his young wife Doatsy’s travels through Lufkin and down to the Thicket, about permanent waves and long hair in the Sixties and cowboy hats and rednecks and cops and the fumes from the paper mills.

This story speaks to that time and place as well as a movie like Easy Rider, but it is not at all dated (the same can’t be said for Easy Rider).


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver