Paterno, Joe Posnanski’s biography of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, debuting at number one on the New York Times best-seller list this week, ends with a collection of testimonials.
Former player after former player tells of Paterno’s positive influence, his welcome discipline, the example he set as a leader committed to excellence. Lots of them resented him while they were playing, but later came to appreciate how he’d helped them realize their potential.
Posnanski obviously admired Paterno. He had lots of company. A winning football coach with a reputation for graduating his players and contributing generously to his school’s academic side was an easy guy to admire.
But according to the report commissioned by Penn State and written by former F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh, over the decade during which former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was criminally abusing children, Joe Paterno was among the officials at the university who “failed to protect a child against a child predator” and “exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims.”
Joe Paterno’s family and some members of the Penn State community have taken issue with the Freeh report, but, perhaps ironically, some of what Posnanski has to say about Paterno renders the judgments of the Freeh report more credible.
As his legend grew, Joe Paterno apparently came to believe that nobody else could do the job he’d been doing for 40 and then 50 and then 60 years. When the men who were supposed to be his superiors in the Penn State community asked at various times for his resignation, he ignored them. Even when the potential consequences of the crimes of Jerry Sandusky became evident to those closest to him, Paterno apparently remained in a hermetic bubble he’d created with the assistance of his admirers. After his son, Scott, had become familiar with the details of Sandusky’s crimes, he urged his father to read the Pennsylvania grand jury presentment that indicted Sandusky.
“Dad, this is really important,” Scott Paterno said.
“I’ve got Nebraska to worry about,” Paterno told him. “I can’t worry about this.”
Despite all the wins Posnanski chronicles, the celebration of Paterno’s generosity, the plaudits of the players he mentored, that may be the line that echoes most loudly for people who read this biography. Joe Paterno could not understand why he should bother with this Sandusky business when there was a football game to think about.