HARRISBURG – Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno told his son the day after his firing he hadn’t informed the coaching staff about allegations Jerry Sandusky may be a child molester because he was unsure whether they were true, Jay Paterno writes in a new book.
In “Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father,” which hit the shelves at some central Pennsylvania bookstores this week, Jay Paterno writes his father said he didn’t want to accuse somebody of something he didn’t witness or know to be true.
“I didn’t know that he’d done all that stuff,” Joe Paterno told his son, according to the book. “I had no idea. I just didn’t know.”
The book takes a defensive tone toward the elder Paterno, who lost his job shortly after Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011 and died of lung cancer just months later.
Jay Paterno, who abandoned a candidacy for lieutenant governor before this year’s Democratic primary after his nominating petitions were challenged, is involved in two lawsuits in which Penn State is the defendant.
“I am not writing to exonerate my father because he did not commit a crime that needs a pardon,” he wrote. “If anything, he is guilty of failing to possess the God-like qualities ascribed to him by others, qualities that Joe was the first to insist he never had.”
His take on the Sandusky scandal closely follows – and repeatedly cites – a rebuttal his family produced after a report commissioned by the university concluded Joe Paterno helped conceal Sandusky’s behavior to avoid bad publicity.
Long sections of the book describe Jay Paterno’s upbringing and his 17 years as an offensive assistant coach under his father, who built the program into a powerhouse and was instrumental in the university’s growth and expansion.
Joe Paterno’s firing, and a subsequent decision to remove his statue from outside the football stadium, remains controversial among Penn State alumni and fans, and Jay Paterno describes the trustees in bitter terms, saying they were just trying to save themselves.
“The firing was an act of cowardice,” he wrote. “End of story.”
In a phone interview Friday with the Associated Press, Jay Paterno said his father first realized Sandusky may be a child molester in late 2010, when he got word a grand jury was investigating, long after Sandusky’s retirement.
Paterno fielded a complaint about Sandusky, a Washington native, in a shower with a boy nearly a decade earlier and told the school’s athletic director about it. Police weren’t notified, however, and the report languished until a fresh complaint in 2008 caused police to investigate Sandusky.
For Jay Paterno, the realization about Sandusky came within a few days of his father’s testimony before the grand jury in January 2011.
Until then, he said, he thought of Sandusky as someone who was doing a lot of good for people – Sandusky established a charity for at-risk children in the 1970s, and prosecutors later determined he used it to find and groom victims.
“When you know somebody for so long, it’s awfully hard to believe bad things about someone, when every sign in his life points the other way,” he said.
Three former Penn State administrators are awaiting trial on charges they participated in a criminal cover-up of allegations against Sandusky: former university president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. They denied the accusations.
“I know what kind of men I think they are, based on personal interactions with them,” Jay Paterno told the AP. “I’ve had nothing but good experiences with those people and nothing but honest dealings with them.”
The Paterno family is behind a lawsuit against the NCAA over the organization’s punishment of Penn State, including a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play and a temporary loss of football scholarships.
Jay Paterno and another former assistant, Bill Kenney, filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking more than $1 million for their dismissal from the team when a new coach was hired in early 2012. They say they have been unfairly linked to the Sandusky scandal.
Asked what Joe Paterno would think about his family suing the university, Jay Paterno said: “I can’t speak for him, but I can tell you this – one of the things my father believed in was truth and integrity.”
Sandusky, who spent decades as Joe Paterno’s lead defensive assistant, was convicted two years ago of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.